Some might say it's too little too late, since reviews have
already become far too unwieldy. Recent examples include those that
drag on for over a year -- such as Accenture or Exxon -- or
cattle-calls that involve more than 100 agencies like the Zappos'
For the 4A's, it's an attempt to address a spike in complaints
received this year from its agency members.
Those who compiled the document -- a team of marketer and agency
representatives from the likes of Visa, Pfizer, American Express,
Kraft, EuroRSCG, Merkley & Partners and the Richards Group --
say a series of factors has altered the dynamics of the
client-agency relationship, making the guidance timely. Among them:
procurement is sitting at the marketing table and is involved in
agency reviews; media fragmentation is leading to more reviews for
specialist shops; and a weakened economy is placing more burdens on
"Pitches can be really time-consuming for marketers to lead and
very expensive for agencies to participate in," said Debra
Giampoli, director of global strategic agency relations at Kraft
Foods. "Because of the economy we're in, agencies and clients are
pressured more than they ever have been before to make every dollar
of spending count and it's more important than ever to make the
right decisions. Mistakes can be very distracting and costly to the
Per the guidelines, the ideal agency search process should last
three months with just one week used to identify which shops to
invite, and six weeks granted to prepare and present ideas. "If the
review drags on, the entire process is at risk as agency talent
that was originally available during the review may be reassigned,
or the agency may even decide to back out of your search and
participate in an agency RFP with a competitor."
It also suggests a cap on the number of shops asked to
participate, saying that no more than six to eight shops should be
invited to fill out a request for proposal and no more than three
should be invited for a final round. Further, the document calls
for companies dropping bulky questionnaires whenever possible,
urging them to pick up the phone instead.
The ANA and 4A's even go so far as to say that marketers might
want to do away with a formal search process altogether: "You may
also want to consider skipping a formal RFI/RFP process in favor of
a fast-track, closed-search process where specific agencies are
invited to discuss their capabilities."
Said Diane Fannon, principal, new business development at
Dallas-based Richards Group: "The fewer agencies you have, the more
in-depth time you can have with them. The worst reviews are where
agencies don't have any interaction with the key clients, and the
best relationships are the ones where you have more than one date
before you marry."
"Cultural conflicts will almost certainly sabotage an
advertiser-agency relationship, regardless of how well an agency's
core competencies and administrative processes match an
advertiser's needs," the guidelines say.
To that end, the 4A's and ANA say that agency visits during a
search should be required, and marketers should take note of
details such as the amenities a shop offers its staff, and the
emphasis it places on titles. It's also important to know whether
the agency will be able to collaborate with shops already on the
"It's not a vendor relationship; you are putting your brand and
business in the hands of marketing professionals said Ms. Fannon.
"The worst thing is when you go through this process and it's
really not a great fit ... and the client has to do it all over
IN 4A'S/ANA GUIDELINES
- If procurement is going to be involved, decide if its role will
be as a facilitator or driver, and be clear with agencies about
- The ideal amount of time for a search process is three months,
and the ideal number of shops who answer a request for proposal is
no more than eight.
- Decide whether a formal search is necessary or whether you can
identify a select number of shops -- internally -- or with the help
of a consultant to participate in a streamlined, closed
- Have a discussion about compensation early on, not at the end
of the process. Agencies should bring up the topic even if a
- Agencies shouldn't do a bait-and-switch, bringing in one team
to secure the account, and assigning another to do the work. Ensure
the client meets the people who will work on their business.
- Agency visits are a must and cultural compatibility should be
weighed just as heavily as capabilities. Clients should understand
how the agency behaves overall and should select the whole agency,
with its values and staff, not just the handful of people who
pitched the business.
- An agency's culture shouldn't only be complementary to a
marketer, but also to the other agencies on the marketer's
- Speculative work presented by an agency during a review
frequently doesn't translate into a campaign, so decide if it's
really a necessary part of the process. If it is , allocate enough
time for agencies to deliver the assignment.
- Offer non-winning agencies a debriefing phone call and give
them honest feedback.