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The american Association of Advertising Agencies' new guidelines attempting to manage the agency review process are admirable and well intentioned. As an eight-person consultancy that has managed more than 200 agency reviews over the past seven years, we support the Four A's guidelines in principle and so state this in our materials.

However, its latest edict ("4A's tackles spec creative, consultant fees in guides," AA, July 26), shows the Four A's continues to lack a real world sense of how agencies behave and will continue to act in the heat of the new business pitch.

It also does a disservice to consulting organizations that charge a modest annual fee to agencies that seek to reduce their time and costs in participating in agency reviews and obtain ongoing counsel and feedback on how to improve their effectiveness. Select Resources International is one such consulting organization.

Let's take this latest round of new guidelines one by one.

* On speculative creative-degree of finish (from the Four A's guides) -- "When speculative creative work is requested in an agency review . . . finished work should be provided [only] if the agency is appropriately compensated."

SRI concurs completely. Concept boards, storyboards and similar materials are the most we ever ask for. We believe agencies often put their pitch at risk by presenting so-called "finished work" for all the obvious reasons.

Problems remain, however. Technology makes it too easy to present work in a virtually finished state. Many agencies continue to believe their key advantage is their executional excellence. Or that the prospect needs to see finished product to understand it.

Further, agencies will forever fear their competitor's presentation will make theirs look like a drugstore operation. Since the manner in which spec is presented continues to be uncontrollable, our solution is to ask our clients at the outset to set aside a budget to cover a portion of the out-of-pocket expenses of the runners-up. We've succeeded at least 95% of the time.

* On agency fees for inclusion in new business searches -- "Agencies should not be required to pay a fee to a search consultant in order to participate in a new business pitch. Similarly, no agency should be required to pay a fee for winning in an account review."

Again, we completely concur. The whole concept of "pay for play" is fundamentally unethical. Every brief we send to an agency clearly states: "We subscribe to the Four A's guidelines. It is not necessary to be registered with SRI to participate in our reviews. Nor will we even discuss registration [with an agency] as long as they are an active participant."

To operate otherwise would be stupid. First, there will always be highly qualified firms that are currently not part of our registry. We are always delighted to uncover and include them. Second, there is a limit to how many agencies we can and want to service.

* On "fees to have [agency] credentials listed" -- We agree on this point as well. "Agencies should also not be required to pay a fee in order to have their credentials listed in a consultant's database as an indirect means of participating in account reviews conducted by a consultant."

SRI is not in the business of charging fees to list credentials. This provision has been interpreted by some to include SRI's long-standing agency consulting practice because we do maintain a library as part of our business model. Not all "search consulting" firms are alike, however. It is wrong to lump us with the plethora of new companies seeking to derive their primary income by offering agency listings on their Web sites or in their databases.

SRI charges an annual registration and consulting fee of $5,000 to a SelectList' of agencies of all sizes and disciplines that we regard as among "the best and the brightest" in their fields. In return, we offer a wide range of services. These include: (1) meeting with and learning about each agency's culture, orientation, strengths, skill sets, new business approaches and tactics; (2) counseling agencies on how to improve their effectiveness; (3) conducting inexpensive workshops; (4) making it easier for SelectList agencies to participate in our reviews by maintaining their credentials, video profiles and portfolios in our library; (5) providing post mortem feedback on how they are perceived vis a vis their peers in a competitive process; (6) educating their client prospects on how to fairly compensate them; and, finally, (7) challenging their clients, who privately come to us for guidance, to do some serious soul-searching before initiating a formal review.

The title of our latest mailing is "10 ways to fire-up your agency before you decide to fire them." Agency fees, which constitute about a third of our revenue, help pay for this.

Select Resources International's strength as a consultancy stems from its strong agency relationships. When we are not working directly with clients, we are working directly with agencies. Fifteen percent of our revenue is derived from helping clients and their agencies jointly develop "win-win" compensation agreements. Another 10% stems from "marriage counseling" designed to stave off a review.

Both parties share in the cost for this work. These services are possible only as a result of the trust we have earned from both agencies and clients. I trust the Four A's new guidelines on fees to consultants are not intended to undermine our accessibility and service to the agency community.

* On standardizing the questionnaire response -- SRI has no issue with the Four A's developing a standardized questionnaire. We have our own that works for us. However, not all consultants utilize a standardized questionnaire. Since consultants are hired by advertisers to help them screen and select agencies, they ought to be able to ask whatever questions they feel are relevant to their specific needs. No standardized questionnaire is going to suffice in this endeavor. Again, a noble Four A's aspiration. But good luck on this one as well.

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