Over the years, we have answered hundreds of painful (sometimes excruciating) RFPs. Some designed by specialty search firms and others created by the clients themselves.
When we began offering agency search services to end-user clients, we wanted to create a process that was both efficient and effective. We prioritized being respectful to both the client and the agency, while gathering the right information to reveal the best possible match.
Drawing on our experience from both sides of the table, we formulated our review process based on three truths.
1. Agency reviews should be customized not canned.
In our first review, we went to great lengths to develop a truly unique and successful approach. It was perfect…until the next opportunity came along. We quickly discovered that a one-size-fits-all approach might look good on paper but it didn’t put our client’s best interests first. Strategic objectives, budget parameters, staff issues, organizational nuances had to be properly assessed before the final approach was defined. Although our first review ended in the creation of a great partnership (one that is still thriving today), that approach didn’t fit the next client whose needs were entirely different.
2. Qualifications and capabilities are just the beginning.
Determining the qualifications and capabilities of an agency partner is the first step in devising an effective process but asking the agency to draft an extensive document detailing these elements is a waste of valuable time. Most of this information is available on the web, and any remaining questions can be answered in a brief call with agency leadership. We recommend ditching the boilerplate RFP and directing the agency’s time towards getting to know your organization’s specific challenges. Afterward, structure a conversation whereby you can see firsthand how the team thinks on its feet. We are not a proponent of speculative planning or creative. Rather, asking them to participate in a strategic working discussion is the best way to uncover style and ability.
3. Fit is a two-way street.
Often during a review, a client enters the process with some degree of hesitation and mistrust. They may feel slighted or mistreated by their former agency and come to the table with a defensive mindset, focusing on areas they believe they can control like price negotiation. Big mistake. You are looking for a spouse, not a fling. To achieve this, you must establish respect for the other’s needs. Your agency wants you to be successful, but they also have needs like: profitability, a good working relationship and work in which they can take pride.
For many on the outside, many marketing firms look alike. The industrial venues, creative slogans, packaged processes and pretty pictures all blend together, making it difficult to determine true points of difference. Take the time to personally get to know the unique aspects of each agency participating in your process. And remember, it’s not about how high they’ll jump; it’s about finding your true match.