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Why you should reevaluate your agency right now

Why you should reevaluate your agency right now Robyn Freye

There are many reasons to let your agency go. Some are valid, some misleading, and others just plain unfortunate. Issues stem from a change of ownership, lack of agency accountability, account management disagreements, and flawed strategies.

As marketers, we know that putting an agency up for review can be a costly and time-consuming undertaking. It is also difficult to determine the appropriate time to pull the plug on your current agency and put your account in review. Is it possible to just get along or do you need to reevaluate your relationship?

I find that agency reviews grow out of frustrations. These are common ones I come across.

  1. My agency doesn't bring new ideas to the table.

    If you leave meetings feeling like you didn't get your point across or you keep hearing the same pitch, it might be time to explore other options. If your agency hasn't presented you with new, innovative ideas, it is not living up to its potential. I guarantee there are others who can. Agencies are hired to do a job that you don't have the time or capabilities to do yourself. They need to make your life easier, not drive you crazy. Make sure your agency is an innovator and not content to do the same old thing.

  2. You feel like you're not important.

    Has your account manager visited you this month? Do your meetings get rescheduled to accommodate other clients? Agencies should cherish the clients they have, especially in this economic climate. Increasing sales, boosting return on investment, and improving brand awareness are always achievable tasks. Make sure your agency listens to your needs and puts the resources you pay for into meeting your goals. If this is not happening, your agency is taking advantage of you. 

  3. The only thing keeping campaigns afloat is hope.

    Hope is not a marketing tactic. Strategy, sound planning, and execution drive results. If you find yourself crossing your fingers that a campaign will work out, it's time to reevaluate your agency-client relationship. Your agency should execute campaign accountably and get it right the first time around.

If any of these points struck a nerve, you should consider an agency review. Apart from a simple lackluster agency relationship, there are many reasons that make now the optimal time to initiate the process. There are opportunities to be had, and being content with the status quo is not the way to attack a recession.

We'll discuss some of these benefits on the next page.

Next page >>

Benefits from conducting a review now:

1. Talent
We all know that marketing budgets are a casualty of the recession. As a result, top advertising experts are now consulting for agencies at a reduced rate. Others are simply waiting by the phone, hoping their favorite agency wins a big account. Times are changing, and both new and old agencies are reinventing themselves to adjust with migrating talent. Conducting a review now means that you would have greater access to the best and brightest minds.  

2. Negotiation and pricing models
When was the last time you were able to negotiate cost or pricing models with your current agency? Now agencies are forced to compete harder and smarter to win business. And it's no surprise that final decisions are made on compensation. This benefits clients because they can both choose between competitive proposals and explore other pricing models. Several agencies are adding bonus- or performance-based contract options into their repertoire, which means clients get what they pay for.

3. Competition is stiff
Brands are decreasing spending, which forces agencies to aggressively acquire new accounts (or other agencies). More agencies vying for the same accounts means clients will see impressive pitches paired with conservative quotes. Other bonuses include going above and beyond RFP requirements, innovative ways to achieve marketing goals, and developing strategies to spend less while increasing ROI.

Great ideas originate from great agencies, and such ideas are often discovered in the review process.

4. Investing in new technologies
Creating in-house technology solutions or partnering with providers is a way for agencies to be more efficient. By proxy, this means that clients have access to the best tools. Take advantage of their research and technology, and consider hiring an agency that has access to cost-effective bundled rates with third-party partners, or its own proprietary systems.

For those of you who are considering an agency review, here are a few tips to help you find the right partner: 

  1. Consider forgoing the RFP process and opt for an RFM instead.

  2. If you do decide, or are required, to distribute an RFP, make your objectives and deal breakers as clear as possible. What are your challenges? What are your business and marketing objectives? Why is your account in review?

  3. Determine budgets for not only the marketing programs and agency fees, but also for your internal cost of time and materials for the review process. Be sure to share these budgets, and consider paying agencies for the work they do during the review to get their undivided attention and resources.

  4. Establish a timeline and stick to it. Remember that time is money for both partners. Work smarter together and focus on the project to be done instead of to the review process.

  5. Establish selection criteria up front with agreed-upon requirements and weight based on priority. 

    • Has the brief been answered?

    • How do creative specs address business and marketing objectives?

    • Was the agency cognizant of cost and ROI?

    • Does the agency have the services relevant to your current needs? Is it progressive enough to grow with your evolving situation? 

  6. Think hard about inviting the incumbent agency to the review process. It's similar to inviting an ex-spouse to your wedding. It's often best to avoid it unless you're required to do so (because of a governing body or scary in-laws). If you feel like your old agency needs to be involved, paying it to write the RFP is always an option if rehiring the agency isn't likely. 

Whether you decide to keep your agency, hire a big name, or go with a regional player or boutique shop, consider the differentiating factors and opportunities before making your choice. Ask yourself, "Am I getting the optimal solution for my marketing dollars?" Until you can answer this question definitively, hold off on signing a long-term contract. The last thing you want is to turn around and conduct another review. Always keep in mind that by utilizing the most qualified, innovative agencies, you will prevail over competitors, economic hurdles, and demanding boardrooms.

Robyn Freye is director of business development for Geary Interactive.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

As director of business development, Robyn Freye forges client relationships to enhance their marketing initiatives. She works with clients to identify their marketing opportunities and develop creative and motivated engagements to exceed their...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Robyn Freye

2009, October 01

Thanks Laura, Lonnie and Gunther for your thoughtful comments. I absolutely believe that open communication is critical in maintaining a good agency-client relationship. The main point I wanted to get across in this column is that client's should not feel stuck with their agency and especially if they are being underserved. There are several options to choose from, and the review process does not have to be a frustrating one. Thanks again!

Commenter: Gunther Sonnenfeld

2009, September 30

Robyn - your article seems suspiciously biased ;)

While many of the points you raise are valid, I tend to agree with Lonny and Laura here on the value of a longer-term relationship. Just about anybody that enters a review is capable of doing great work (or at least is expected to be). But any relationship that has lasted has attributes that can be improved upon by strengthening the lines of communication, as opposed to giving up and switching gears by replacing agencies. And I'm saying this as someone who works with agencies and direct clients alike. Further, the article implies that agencies hiring consultants is a bad thing, and grounds for termination. Here's where my bias kicks in - I actually think that this type of transparency, humility and resourcefulness proves that an agency can look outside of its own shell for a better perspective, which in turn serves the best interests of the client. It's a a good practice that's been going on for years.

There is no doubt that the review process can be flawed. When you mention replacing RFPs with 'RFMs', are you talking about providing a consumer behavior and market segment analysis, or, are you talking about providing a more in-depth summary of agency upper management (more along the lines of an RFI)? Regardless of what the ask is, the information being relayed to agencies needs to be far more concise and equitable in scope, which, for the most part, is not the case currently. In other words, changing the proposal format seems a bit like putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Clients need help with knowing what to ask for and how, and an agency can certainly do that, provided that they've been engaged.




2009, September 30

Lonny is right - the agency-client relationship is like a marriage. And, according to recent study by the ANA/AAAA, the leading cause of failure is communication. As an agency search consultant, often I find that clients weren't open and direct with the agency when it came to problems. And these problems will add up to a divorce if not addressed. 360-annual, or better yet semi annual, evaluations help keep the communication flowing and strengthen relationships. But clients also need to be honest about their culpability in the failing relationship, and need to be open to honest feedback from its agency.

Commenter: Lonny Strum

2009, September 30


You point out good reasons to consider moving an account. But assuming a company is currently working with a credible agency, it's far better to fix and relationship than to change it. Business relationships are like marriages--they need mutual respect and mutual investment in success