As a Brit living in the U.S., this is the first time I've experienced a U.S. general election. And as a compensation consultant for agency reviews, I couldn't help but notice similarities between the process of electing a president and the process of selecting a new agency.
In both instances, the challenge is how to digest an influx of, at times obtuse, information and ultimately make a confident decision. I think it might be wise for me to avoid offering advice around this year's election, but here are some thoughts on how to approach your next agency search.
Bright, shiny objects
High drama and spectacle. Expertly crafted talking points. Big, bold attention-grabbing efforts. Presidential election or agency pitch? Who can tell?
Anyone who has sat through an agency pitch can attest to the glossy presentations, painstakingly selected creative and polished responses. Pitches should look like this. Agencies should bring their A-games. But as the client, your job is to look beyond the glitz and glamour.
When you meet with agencies, don't focus too heavily on how "shiny" they are. Does the team look and sound exactly like the type of people you want to work with every day? Most likely. But do they actually understand your challenges and more importantly how to solve them? Before you hire them, make sure they do.
"I promise to end fracking." "I promise to build a wall." "I promise to deliver HUGE results for your brand."
Pitches often include promises from the agency to deliver results. These results are often received with various levels of skepticism from the client.
Rather than wonder whether or not agencies will keep their promises or wait and see how they'll "pull this off," build them into your contract. Structuring a contract up front that establishes goals and accountability is the best way to turn promises into agreements at the start of your partnership.
Walk before you run
Candidates' lofty, at times polarizing, ideas dominate election coverage, while the day-to-day chops needed for presidential leadership can be left unchecked.
When it comes to selecting the right agency, clients may overlook what they require in terms of basic day-to-day account needs and focus only on the breakthrough creative or media innovation an agency showcases at the pitch.
Don't neglect the basics. Make sure you know how the agency intends to partner with you on your daily business. Agencies know they need to differentiate themselves in a pitch, so of course they'll bring their most amazing work and campaigns. It's your job to be sure they can deliver on your less savory chores as well.
Playing nicely in the sandbox
"I can work with anyone." -- Every presidential candidate
The agency ecosystem doesn't always encourage collaboration between agencies (even within their own agency groups). With individual P&L's and objectives that aren't always aligned, agencies are not incentivized to cooperate with each other -- this is a constant frustration for clients.
Make sure your next agency can collaborate. If it's important to you to have your agencies working well together (which it should be), you'll want to vet this. Reach out to previous clients and partner agencies as a reference check of sorts and find out how well the agency did collaborating in past relationships. And as part of your search, build workshops into your process that evaluate how well an agency works with others.
With the emotion, passion and hoopla of this election cycle, it can be difficult to remember that this is all leading up to one thing -- a vote.
Likewise, after an intensive pitch process with multiple agencies and many meetings and a host of factors to consider, a decision needs to be made. And at the end of a search, it can be difficult for a client to remain objective. Personal feelings, preferences and previous relationships all play a role in influencing the final decision, which sometimes get in the way of the RIGHT decision being made.
Remain objective. This may be the hardest part of the whole process, but also the most important. Do all you can to remain objective by defining your selection criteria and diligently sticking to it throughout. This will increase your chances of the right selection in the end.
Whatever the outcome in November or whatever the outcome of your agency search, the winner will be one you have to live with for some time. Do all you can to make the choice a good one.