Changing your media, creative and digital agencies simultaneously

Darren Woolley

Darren Woolley is Founder and MD of TrinityP3, an independent strategic marketing management consultancy that assists marketers, advertisers and procurement with agency search and selection, agency engagement and alignment and agency monitoring and benchmarking. With his background as an analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

Agency reviews can be tricky, especially in terms of time and disruption to business. So when the time comes to review more than one agency, it’s helpful to have a system in place. This is especially so when you want to review them all at the same time.

Why, you might ask, would you want to review more than one agency at a time? In the cases we have experienced, when a brand was undergoing important changes in their strategies they have needed to review more than one agency. Some of these changes include a shift to a strategy that focuses on one to one interactivity, a change to a focus on content marketing, and changing to a strategy that invokes more direct response.

The agencies up for review were seen to be:

  • resisting the changes and wanting to keep things the same
  • lacking the required strengths for the new changes
  • having trouble with collaborating together, and with the marketing team

In the cases we have experienced, we discussed with the marketers concerned what the best strategy would be, and whether they wanted to review the agencies all at the same time, or one after the other.

Consecutive Pitches

To structure the reviews one after the other would be less taxing for the company than if they were to review the agencies concurrently. But if you think about the time it would take to do each review separately, roughly up to eight months, disruption to the company would be ongoing.

You also need to consider the transition process. If all agencies were replaced gradually, how would the brand transition from one agency to the next?

Also if you think about the transition, replacing all of your agencies one by one means that each agency will have to get used to both the old agencies and the new ones as they join the roster. You want to keep in mind how this transition would affect your brand.

Concurrent Pitches

On the other hand, it would be an incredible stretch for a marketing team to run all three pitches simultaneously. Another thought to keep in mind is would there be enough time during the process to really investigate each agency and their capabilities? Would you be able to gain enough information to create the best possible outcome?

After deliberating which would be best, we suggested that we should change our mindset in thinking it was three separate pitches and instead view it as one. It was proposed that we manage a hybrid solution with a three-stage process, with each stage having a distinct aspect.

  1. Market search, credentials and chemistry. Undertaken separately.
  2. Workshops on strategy and financial proposals. Undertaken together.
  3. Creative alignment and chemistry. Collective.

What we had created was a collaborative concurrent pitch. It is a process that is highly collaborative among the prospective agencies and leads to the formation of collective relationships between both the agencies and the marketing team. This would prove incredibly useful once the three new agencies had been chosen, as relationships had already been established.

Stage 1 – Market search, credentials and chemistry

This phase is where we look at the different agency categories, such as media or digital, by themselves. We create an agency search brief which takes into account the different core strengths needed: Cultural, size and geographic location.

We are then able to use this to find agencies that fit the brief and required skill-sets. We break down all those suitable, into groups of six agencies per category. The six agencies in each category are then approached and given a credentials brief to respond to.

Within the brief, the agencies are asked to provide information on their client base, staff, and structure, as well as work examples that show their strengths. The brief also includes a section where each agency can list any other agencies, from the categories being reviewed, whom they have worked with or are currently doing so. For example a media agency would list any digital or creative agencies that they have a direct working relationship with. They are also asked to provide reviews for those they have worked with.

When these documents and reviews have been collated and reviewed, all agencies are invited to a chemistry session lasting an hour. In this they are asked why they would be the perfect agency for the job, as well as many other questions stemming from their previous written responses. The agency would also be quizzed on their peers in the alternate categories. This is to discover their preferences for working partners.

Stage 2 – Strategy workshops and financial proposals

The second stage is all about testing the abilities of each agency as well as their ability to collaborate with other groups effectively. From the first stage, our team had a clear idea of the different agencies being reviewed, and they were able to begin the process of short-listing. Each category was cut in half to three agencies to go on to the next stage.

Now we were left with three agencies in each category of media, creative and digital. From here we mixed the agencies up and matched them together from the information collated in stage one. (We noted with interest that some agencies, even though they had agency partners within the same holding company, didn’t always recommend these agencies as their preferred working partners.) We finally had three groups, each with three different agencies working together as a team.

Once these teams were confirmed, each agency was informed on who they were to be working with in the strategic workshop. Although we did allow them to object to the teams, no one did so. We believe this was down to including them throughout the process and asking for their input. We made it clear each agency’s successes would not be decided or influenced by their individual teams and that we would choose from across all three teams for the final group of three.

I have previously talked about strategic workshops, their benefits and their incredible effectiveness in fostering alignment among agencies, so I don’t want to repeat myself here. I will, however, outline the key benefits of strategic workshops. These were demonstrated in this experience:

  1. We were able to see whether an agency had a natural tendency to lead or if the groups equally managed the processes.
  2. The ability to see who naturally collaborated together, and who were more individual.
  3. The discovery of who the strategic thinkers were amongst the agencies.
  4. Viewing how the agencies and the marketing team worked together with other agencies present.
  5. Seeing who out of the agencies dominated the proceedings, and who allowed this to happen.

These workshops, depending on the size of the agencies, can involve vastly different numbers, in these cases from around 12 to over 50 participants. It was also interesting to see the number of people involved did not matter when it came to determining the dynamics between the agencies and marketing team during the workshops.

Within the workshops, all agencies were given a financial proposal template to fill out. We reviewed and evaluated these with input from marketing and procurement.

Stage 3 – Creative alignment and negotiations

In stage three, the decisions are made on which three to choose as the new media, creative and digital agencies. Each time we have worked through this process, none of the marketing teams we worked with chose an individual team. The agencies chosen each time have been from across the three groups, for no particular reason other than that they were the best for the job. This shows that although collaboration is an important part of the decision, the selection is primarily finding the best agency in each category.

Now that you have your preferred three agencies and their respective financial proposals, it is possible to begin developing your own financial and negotiation plan. This way of reviewing agencies is incredibly beneficial as it allows you to create a remuneration model that is performance and value based for each agency. This also leads to the close alignment of your agencies to your marketing strategy.

It is also important to take note of the emphasis on collaboration in this process, which is much more than in a usual agency pitch. It allows you to establish a base relationship with the agencies before you begin work. This process is much more collaborative than the usual agency selection pitch or RFP.

Key Benefits

  1. Holding agency reviews simultaneously means less disruption
  2. Resource use is significantly lower when combining the separate pitches into one process
  3. The agencies and marketers form relationships and become business ready
  4. The emphasis on a collaborative process fosters greater collaboration between agencies
  5. Marketers are able to build and apportion resources and negotiate across the agencies during the selection process to suit the needs of the marketing strategy
  6. Marketing and procurement can see the way the agencies collaborate and work together in the workshops before they make their decisions.

If you are thinking about completely overhauling your agency roster, reviewing all agencies at once may seem like a mammoth task. But when you break it down, having a collaborative concurrent pitch is incredibly efficient in terms of resources, time and disruption and is the most effective process for finding the right agency mix.

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Tags: agency management

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