Blog | Greg Straface 01.04.19

The Ad Agency RFI: A shorter, faster way to select your ideal agency

It’s time for prospective clients and agencies to revisit the ad agency selection process. For years clients have asked agencies to respond to and submit the never-changing RFI. The typical RFI asks the agencies to answer a laundry list of questions, in some cases so many questions that they allow the agencies two weeks to a month to respond. (And don’t forget you need to read all of those documents.) 

In other industries the process is much simpler and more streamlined. The clients ask organizations to share their capabilities in person and then they ask about pricing. The client makes a decision based on what’s been shared. No free work. No weeks or months of extra requests. No hidden budgets. 

So yeah, it’s about time to make a change to a more rational approach.  Here are my simple steps to selecting a new agency partner:

1. Do your homework – visit the websites
Since the beginning of the internet, we’ve developed company websites to better communicate what an organization does, what services or solutions they offer, what clients they have and who is the senior team that makes up that company. Spend a few hours looking at different agency websites and see if they meet your requirements. Consider whether they offer the services you want and if they have client experience you think could be relevant to your team. Why have the agency spend a month answering questions and formatting a response when the answers are often right there on their website right in front of you? Take the time to review it, and it’ll save both the agency and you time and money.

2. Have a 30-minute call with the agencies
Once you’ve had the chance to visit the agency websites, narrow your list to the several you feel are in your wheelhouse and represent at least some of what you’re looking to accomplish with a partner. Then spend 30 minutes on the phone providing the agencies the background for what you’re looking to accomplish and allow them the chance to ask a few questions to see if they’re a good fit for you as well. Yes, that’s right. If they’re not a good fit, this will be an opportunity for them to communicate if they have the skills to participate in your agency process. And the most important thing to talk about with the agency during this call is….budget. Let the agencies know up front what your estimated budget will be, even if it is a ballpark. They’ll be able to communicate if they’re able to take you on or participate. Believe me, they want to be mindful of their time and you want to be mindful of yours.

3. Spend an hour with the agency and review capabilities
Having provided some background on your earlier call about your organization and what it is looking to accomplish with an agency, invite a short list of firms to spend an hour sharing their capabilities with you. Have them share some of the work they’ve executed with other clients that are relevant to you. No spec work, just previous work. Have them talk about their measurement and analytics and how they’ve proven this for previous clients. This saves a tremendous amount of time and effort for both client and agency. Oh, and this meeting can be either in person or via remote presentation. Either way, it will give you a sense of chemistry, which is one of the highest criteria many client prospects put on their selection process list next to better understanding if the agency is strategic and creative.

4. Narrow your choice and make a decision
You’ve now met with all the agencies, they know your budget, and it’s time to make a decision. Did the work they shared feel relevant? Was there good chemistry? Did they seem interested and insightful? If so, narrow your decision to a couple of shops and let them share pricing for the work you’d like completed. Now you should be ready to make a choice. 

And by the way, don’t make your decision solely on price. When procurement is involved agencies always feel that they will be hammered down to the lowest price. Your organization is building its brand or trying to drive leads and ultimately sales, and selecting an agency on the lowest price isn’t the best way to make a decision. Work with the agency that you feel will have the most impact now and in the future. Saving a few dollars won’t grow your brand but having a smart partner that can meet the KPI’s or achieve the objectives you discussed will.

Let’s make the agency RFI process simpler. Take these four steps and you’ll be up and running with a new partner in a few weeks. 

If I can be of any assistance now or in the future in how to go about selecting an agency partner, I’d be happy to spend a few minutes talking about how you can streamline your process and get an agency on board to help you out. I have almost 30 years of agency business development experience and I'm always open to a conversation. Feel free to reach out to me at gstraface@agencypja.com.