Marketers Know Their Review Briefs Are Vague and Demands Are Steep, Survey Finds

Nearly Half of Agencies Say Clients Should Pay $300K or More for Spec Work They Keep

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Joanne Davis, founder of Joanne Davis Consulting, asked 167 marketers and agencies about the current state of reviews.
Joanne Davis, founder of Joanne Davis Consulting, asked 167 marketers and agencies about the current state of reviews. Credit: Courtesy Joanne Davis Consulting.

Marketers know what they're putting agencies through with unclear RFPs and aggressive demands in reviews for their business.

That's the conclusion of a new survey of 66 large brands and 101 agencies by search consultant Joanne Davis Consulting.

Some 81% of clients admit that they frustrate agencies by not being clear, according to the survey results, and 63% know their fee expectations are out of alignment with the work they're requesting.

After a year in which seemingly every massive media agency account went into review, consultancy president and founder Joanne Davis wondered if creative accounts were next. So she tailored the survey to the creative agency review process.

"We chose to do this with a creative focus because our hypothesis was media would not be as big this year," Ms. Davis said. "Creative agencies were calling us in the later part of last year and early this year saying, it's kinda slow. Have anything for us? We thought, there's going to be a flurry, and knew what we had in our pipeline."

"Today it's become harder because there are so many more choices," she added. "Where should content be? Who should lead? Should I be bundled? A whole lot aren't sure."

The finding comes a few years after Ms. Davis issued a report surveying PR, creative, digital and media agencies on the review process. At the time, most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus, 20% found them complete and focused most of the time, 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent, and no respondents said they were complete and focused all the time.

While agencies and clients are now aligned on the fact that review briefs could be clearer, they're less aligned on whether or not, and how, agencies should be compensated during a review process.

Fewer than 30% of clients said agencies should get paid for the work they do during reviews, regardless of whether or not the client takes ownership of the work, according to the survey.

Of the clients that believe that agencies should get paid, over half think they should get a higher percentage fee when the client takes ownership of the work, and 36% said that amount should be between $100,000 and $199,000. Almost half of the agencies surveyed felt they deserved $300,000 or more for the review work that the client would ultimately own.

"We were not surprised that agencies felt more strongly about being compensated for spec work than did clients, but clients were not as resistant to the idea as we expected," Ms. Davis said in the report. "Both sides felt very strongly that more time should be spent on getting to know each other. And it was a good confirmation to see that clients recognized that they need to work harder to ensure that they know and communicate what they need at the start of the review process."

Only three agency comments out of 62 comments were critical of procurement departments, said Ms. Davis.

"There have already been extensive industry surveys on procurement's role with agencies so we did not need to ask questions about procurement," said Ms. Davis in the report. "However, the optimist in us believes that perhaps agencies have finally learned to accept procurement as a natural member of the client agency review team, rather than write in a comment that procurement is the main problem."

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