Why Agency Reviews Resemble Dating Services

And Clients Are Being a Bit Too Promiscuous

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
For decades, most clients held reviews and invited "a select number" of agencies to participate. That select group was culled down from a wider group, once the client did some internal research and some asking around. Seemed to work well for a long time.

Now I am seeing a trend that is troubling. Instead of inviting three or four agencies to pitch, clients increasingly are asking two or three times that number. We just went through three pitches where this occurred. In one case, there were 13 agencies competing. Thirteen! Does a client really need to see that many agencies? Can they truly even remember the presentations from all 13?

In another scenario, we were told by the search consultant handling the review that four agencies were presenting. When we got to the pitch, we learned from the client that the number was eight! Know what that feels like to learn that right before you go on to present? Had we known that many agencies were involved, we might not have participated. (It was a much bigger commitment of resources than the other two pitches the week before.) What happened to looking at a handful of shops? More important, how many agencies does it really take to find a fit?

What's happening is that the review process is becoming a dating process. Clients meet the agency in the RFI round. Get to know them better in the RFP stage. Go for a peck on the cheek in the process leading up to the pitch stage. And fall in love at the actual pitch.

I'm not advocating abstinence from dating. It's just that the courting process has gone too far. It's often a waste of an agencies' time to pitch among 12 other shops. Narrow it down, clients! Apply some discipline to the process. I promise it'll be easier for you and your team. Because it's just as exhausting for you to take the time to meet and sit in on a long list of agency presentations as it is for the agency to prep for the pitch.

It leads me to believe that as the tenure of CMOs gets shorter, there has become an extreme amount of caution around selecting the right agency. What happened to gut instinct?

So I have a suggestion. Clients should draw the line at four agencies in any review. (It's OK to send out an RFI or RFP to narrow down the list to get the four qualified and interested agencies.) And agencies should have more self-respect and decline to participate in any review with six or more participants. The only exception is when an agency feels it has a leg up for strategic or political reasons. I promise both sides will run more productive businesses.

If you still feel the need to see more, may I suggest eharmony.com?
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