The First Date

Agency reviews have reached a new pinnacle in their demand for dollars and resources to effectively secure a piece of business. And the scary part is that the first date is becoming the most expensive relative to time spent with our potentially new partner.

It’s amazing that prior to even kicking off the courting period you are forced to re-cut cases, develop team videos (with our untrained actors and actresses, also known as the agency staff), and answer 50–100 questions about the agency and its unique set of experiences, skills, and capabilities. Now don’t get me wrong; if this is what it takes to get a date, well, let’s just say I chased my wife for 6 years until she would finally go out with me. So determination has never been an issue. However, it didn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars in time and effort to get that date, even though the end result was still priceless.

Today agencies are at the mercy of the review process. The competition is tight, and you win by a whisker. From your first submission to your last follow-up effort, it takes time, money, and ingenuity of all orchestrated with complete PERFECTION. And remember, once you have clear sight on the prize, you are then forced to negotiate the value of your idea(s) with someone who will probably not be your direct client at the end of the day. So how do we start to bring this world into check and control costs? I am not sure that the approach of our friends in the Netherlands with their boycotting of reviews is the most productive to building a relationship.

What we can do is begin a process of identifying the assets for a meaningful first date. This is not to say we need to rule out videos altogether or even large RFPs; however, we should define which “one” would result in a stronger review for the client. We also need to take a closer look at the actual RFPs and answer key questions such as: Do they align with the ultimate brief and the decision-making criteria? Does each question have a purpose or is it potentially redundant? Has all information been collected for the RFP prior to its distribution to the agency? Have milestone dates been confirmed with the stakeholders? If an automated program is used for RFP/RFI submission, is this the best way to judge the agency’s chemistry with the client or company? By narrowly focusing on these key questions, we can potentially move closer to an efficient first date.

Until then, we will continue to build our 1,500-page RFP cookbook and log hours editing our teams so their inner beauty shines through. By the way, does someone know of a good acting coach?

Michael L. Miller
EVP, Chief Growth Officer
MRM Worldwide

  1. Some great points here. Mitigating the first date work can provide both sides of the transaction many benefits. Here are a couple of quick thoughts to consider that might help our industry’s situation:

    How much “how to search” training is available to clients? Especially those in procurement? I know the 4As and the ANA have several docs available to clients. But nowadays, people may be too busy to read 10 pages, let alone 40. Maybe a series of quick, 3-minute videos could help (based on these existing, really well done printed pieces). Make them widely available. Include a list of search consultants for those that will realize they may need help.

    Is there a way to change up the typical process, and have clients or search consultants have a quick phone conversation with the agency and ask for a list of references BEFORE things get serious? The prospective clients should check those references before doing anything else. An agency’s existing clients would be in a much better position to talk about the service and work they get. Of course, this is not going to work in all situations. But it’s a thought. This could mean that instead of 12-16 or more agencies making a credentials or RFP round, only a handful do. Which makes it better odds for an agency.

    Finally, next time you find yourself in one of these weighty pitches – particularly ones without a search consultant – would there be any value in making an offer to avoid the pitch altogether? After all, it takes time to participate in multi-staged dog and pony shows. Time that could be spent learning the brand or getting work out into the marketplace. Which can translate to a faster, more efficient change for the client.

    Hope this helps. This is an industry-wide problem. And yeah, you’re right: picketing ain’t gonna change it. But new thinking can!

    Steve Congdon
    rainmaking blog

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