Siltanen & Partners won't participate in your traditional agency review

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Rob Siltanen and Leonard Armato.
Rob Siltanen and Leonard Armato. Credit: Courtesy Siltanen and Partners

Siltanen & Partners is bidding adieu to the traditional review.

The 19-year-old agency, headquartered in Los Angeles and founded by TBWA/Chiat/Day vet Rob Siltanen, is trying out new model in which it snubs traditional agency pitches in favor of what it's calling the "S&P Guarantee," a free trial of sorts to see if the agency is a good fit for a new client. The shop recently tapped Leonard Armato — onetime Skechers president and CMO and former agent to Shaquille O'Neal and Kareem Abdul Jabbar — as its new CEO, while Siltanen serves as chairman and chief creative officer.

The agency's client list includes Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Skechers, sandwich chain Togo's and Asian restuarant chain Pei Wei.

Siltanen says the 50-person shop has solid long-term relationships, "but it's definitely been hard for us to break down the doors to get into a lot of different pitches." Armato says clients often believe they need "size to succeed" and that many clients have a predetermined choice of a larger agency before the review starts. Plus, pitching is expensive — the agency says major pitches can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"You're buying a lottery ticket," Siltanen says. "You're paying a dollar and your odds of winning aren't great, but the payout is pretty big if you win — that's the old-school model."

Under its plan, Siltanen & Partners will work with a client to outline business objectives and how that success will be measured, then the agency suggests a campaign to meet those objectives. It it fails, the client doesn't pay an agency fee. Clients pay for the cost of production and the media buy, but do not shell out for agency fees unless the shop produces those predetermined results.

This new method "takes the subjectivity out of the process," Armato says. Siltanen & Partners asserts this is a more efficient model for the industry and gives clients a better fit.

If a client asks for S&P to engage in a review, it will do so only if the client compensates it for the work or there is some mechanism in place for the agency to prove its worth through its new guarantee, Armato says. "But we wouldn't participate in a traditional agency review where the outcome is often pre-determined — and there is a tremendous waste of time and resources," he says.

Greg Paull, R3 principal, says he has not heard of an agency formally installing a plan like S&P's. He says it makes sense because reviews are "a huge financial and time burden on agencies, marketers and consultants. Any ideas that can improve the process are surely welcome."

Armato says existing client relationships are not affected by the new plan.

Coldwell Banker's senior vice president of marketing David Marine says S&P, which has been with Coldwell for either years, has been highly focused on business objectives whether it's a specific leads goal or being most highly-rated.

Marine, who has been through a number of agency pitches, says that in general, "the [pitching] agency is always going to tell you that they're goal-focused — year one, they're going to hit that. After that honeymoon period, what is their continued vested interest in the business, to help you hit that goal?"

He says this new model is S&P's way of showing the shop has a vested interest beyond winning an award or having a new reel to show.

Similarly, Glenn Lunde, president of Togo's, says his longtime relationship with Siltanen has involved having a deep interest in the business — even when it comes to product development. Siltanen helped the shop invent a "Pretzelrami" as it launched new branding.

Now the question is: Will anyone bite?

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