Johanna McDowell, CEO IAS, South Africa on 2H 2022 upsurge in review requests in South Africa

Consultant firm IAS talks about improving the agency search process and the role of in-house agencies in digital community management

by Carol Mason , AdForum (NYC)



Independent Agency Selection
Johannesburg, South Africa
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The view from the consultant's desk in South Africa and the sub-Saharan region - in conversation with Johanna McDowell, Founder & CEO, Independent Agency Selection, and Managing Partner, SCOPEN Africa, based in Johannesburg.

First, please describe your consultancy – what is your geographic reach; along with pitch consultancy, what other services do you provide to clients; what is your background? The IAS is an intermediary between marketers and agencies. We conduct pitches across all agency disciplines and we also manage client agency relationships. We conduct benchmarking exercises, client agency contract negotiations and M&A processes.

The IAS is active in South Africa and across the rest of Africa, mainly in sub-Sahara Africa. We also run master classes for agencies throughout South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

Taking a top line look at the industry in 1H 2022, how active has pitch / new business been this year? Do you see this metric as a barometer of industry health? 1H 2022 was reasonably active in new business activity but we believe that 2H 2022 is going to be much stronger based on the recent upsurge of pitch requests that we are looking at currently from clients. We do see this as a positive metric in terms of industry health.

And interestingly we have seen an increase in benchmarking requests from brands and agencies and these often occur ahead of possible pitches. They also occur when agencies are renegotiating their contracts.

The Pitch Positive Pledge has gained momentum in the UK. Brands, consultants and agencies are making a promise to improve the entire pitch process. What can a brand do to improve the process on their side? And the same question about agencies? Brands can improve the process by not asking for full creative and strategy work to be presented but to rather rely on the case studies that the agency has produced for other brands/clients as demonstration of the agency’s capabilities.

Also limiting the number of agencies in an RFP process helps. More than three agencies in a final pitch scenario is unnecessary if all of the preceding stages have been well managed. It is important to assess chemistry between the client and potential agency partner – a critical success factor and that must be done early in the process before final pitch stage.

What is your view of the growth in client-side in-housing, do you think this is a trend that will continue? It seems to grow a little then subside. We see digital community management and social media work as the main growth area for in housing in this market.

What advice would you give to a small agency looking to land a major client? We advise small agencies to demonstrate capabilities first – clients will not bring a major brand to a small agency unless they are convinced that the agency will be able to deliver. That is the most important aspect – not withstanding levels of creativity.

And finally, what gets you excited about an agency that you are shortlisting for a pitch? We love to see how agencies will fare and perform during a pitch process and their level of enthusiasm is often the best demonstration of how serious they might be about a pitch. It is always exciting when new agencies are unknown to the client – we like to bring in agencies that those brands might otherwise have never heard of. 

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