Zappos Review Incites Reproach From Agency Creative

Ignited's Mike Wolfsohn Says Online-Retail Darling Exemplifies What's Wrong With the Process

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NEW YORK ( -- Zappos is known for stellar customer service, but when it comes to dealing with adland, the marketer is portrayed in a blog post by a creative at ad shop Ignited as the poster child for a flawed agency review process.

When the Las Vegas-based online retailer (one of Ad Age's 2008 Marketers of the Year) launched an agency review this summer, it quickly drew widespread interest from the agency community. Zappos is a hot, new, media-savvy brand known for its employees' -- and CEO's -- commitment to using Twitter. It works with the Ad Store, New York, and Gotham Direct. It originally contacted only a select number of shops but later opened up the process to invite more respondents. All told, more than 100 agencies responded to a request for proposals, among them Ignited.

Unbeknownst to the marketer, Ignited tracked how much time Zappos spent reviewing its submission. Using Google Analytics, the agency calculated that Zappos viewed only five pages of its 25-page submission, with an average page-view time of 14 seconds. "If Zappos wasn't prepared to evaluate 80-plus responses they shouldn't have opened the review beyond the initial 16 agencies they contacted," Mike Wolfsohn, VP-executive creative director, wrote in a post Sunday on Ignited's blog.

Beyond the lack of time the marketer spent evaluating Ignited's proposal, Mr. Wolfsohn was miffed by the portions of the submission Zappos chose to examine -- such as, "What's a campaign by another agency that you admire?" -- but not a testimonial from one of the agency's current clients.

Mr. Wolfsohn said in his post: "They never clicked on the page that described how we stay at the forefront of marketing and technology. They never clicked on the video testimonial from the founder of another e-commerce company that we helped increase sales by more than 200%. And they never clicked on the page that outlined our approach to measurement. Which may explain why they didn't know we'd be monitoring how much time they spent looking at our proposal."

"Clients have always had the upper hand in the review process and they always will," Mr. Wolfsohn continued. "But the playing field is about to get a bit more level. If we reply to any RFPs in the future, we'll be letting the prospective clients know that our submission will be online and that we'll be measuring how much time is spent reviewing it. And we encourage other shops to do the same. If agencies are going to spend weeks preparing their response, the least any client can do is commit 30 minutes to look at it."

Response from Zappos
Mr. Wolfsohn said he heard back in short order from Aaron Magness, who is leading the review process for the marketer, and he is satisfied with the response. "I thought it was professional, and I thanked him for taking the time to reach out to me," Mr. Wolfsohn said.

Said a Zappos spokeswoman, "Aaron thinks the Ignited post has created a fantastic dialogue between clients and agencies -- he just wishes it were in a medium where everyone could post a comment as well" (readers can't leave comments on Ignited's site).

Mr. Wolfsohn told Ad Age that agency management and co-workers supported his desire to critique the Zappos RFP experience and call for agencies to collectively improve new-business processes on the Ignited blog. The El Segundo, Calif.-based independent shop has some 130 employees. Its roster includes Activision, Princess Cruises, NBC and the U.S. Army and contributes to annual billings of $150 million.

"My intent wasn't to vilify Zappos, but rather spark the dialogue between agencies and between agencies and prospective clients," Mr. Wolfsohn told Ad Age. "Having been involved in the pitching process for a very long time, it's something I feel strongly about. ... Agencies have been their own worst enemies for a very long time. When I go to my mechanic, he won't do work on spec. We're a very rare industry that is willing to give stuff away for free, and it escalates to a point where it's self-defeating to the industry that we're all in."

"If instead of trying to one-up each other, we could create an environment where we could compete more cost-effectively. ... I think we'd all be more successful," added Mr. Wolfsohn, who said several agencies that also participated in the Zappos pitch have reached out to him to thank him for his blog post.

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