The Ad Agency RFI: 5 Things Marketers Should Keep In Mind Before Launching An Agency Review

I’ve been in advertising business development in B2B marketing agencies for nearly 30 years, and during that time I’ve seen it all: from pitch requests so thoroughly thought out that we didn’t even need a call with the client to single-page requests that left room for interpretation and head-scratching everywhere.

So before you, as a marketer, set out to do an advertising agency review and distribute an RFI (Request for Information), be sure to keep the following best practices in mind. It’ll save both you and the participating agencies lots of time and effort.

1. Establish What You’re Looking to Accomplish with a Marketing Agency Partner Before You Start Your Search

Work with your marketing team to figure out what it is you’re trying to accomplish from a marketing perspective. For example:

  • Is your marketing team having issues with brand awareness?
  • Are sales lagging and you are looking for an agency with demand generation?
  • Are you looking for an agency with a specific requirement in mind around content or digital or social?
  • Are you looking for positioning assistance?

Make sure you have buy-in from all of your marketing team, including senior executives at the highest levels, about what you’re looking to accomplish. You want to be sure that you have everyone on the same page before beginning your agency partner exploration and begin the task of reaching out to agencies. It’ll make life a lot easier for you if you know what your objectives are upfront.

2. Know All The Steps You Are Going To Take In Your Agency Review Process

Many marketers begin their agency review process without establishing how their process will play out, and believe that simply getting together with agencies to share capabilities is all that's needed. In advance of starting your review, you need to sit down with your marketing team to figure out all the steps you’ll be taking to select an agency.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Visit agency websites to better understand what their capabilities are, who they've worked with and if they have the BtoB or BtoC experience you're looking for.
  • Will you be issuing an RFI to get more detail about the agencies to narrow the list further?
  • Will you be visiting the shops to gauge chemistry and ask more detailed questions?
  • Will you be asking for pricing?
  • Will you want spec work from the shops? And if you ask to do creative spec, will you be paying the agencies a stipend for their services?

In a recent experience, we had a prospect send out an RFI where the agency worked on our response for almost two weeks and after submitting it the prospect decided they were changing their priorities, needed to evaluate their budgets, and needed to get buy in from the executive team. They informed the agency a different RFI would be issued and we’d need to respond to that one now.  In most industries, this is called a change order, and it’s pretty costly. In BtoB marketing, you are setting a bad precedent for you and your potential agency partner. Make sure you have your process in place and stick to it. Lot’s of work go into these responses.

3. Provide A Timeline For Your Review Process

It's amazing how many marketers ask agencies to meet unrealistic timelines for selecting their agency partner, but can’t keep up their end of the bargain. While you may like to think that your company is the only organization your potential agency partner is talking to, remember that they are a business as well, and may be in the middle of a dozen conversations and pitch processes. With that in mind, set up a realistic timeline so the agencies know where they are within your process and when they can expect decisions at which points of your timeline.

4. Have A Realistic Ballpark Budget To Share

It still surprises me how many prospects expect an agency involved in their RFI to figure out what they need to spend for a marketing campaign. The marketer should have a realistic ballpark range that they can share with prospective agencies in advance of any call or meeting. Knowing and providing this in advance will allow both the marketer and agency to establish whether it makes sense to have the agency participate in its process. Most agencies have budget thresholds for working with clients given their size. By communicating upfront your ‘all-in’ budget range (media, production, and agency fees) the agency will quickly be able to communicate if it’s something that they can participate in.

Don’t take it as an insult if an agency says it can’t participate because of the limited budget. Use it to your advantage. You both narrow your field of agencies to talk quickly and are being cost effective. Also, If you find it insensitive when agencies ask this question, remember, we both run businesses and have to be mindful of what we both pursue and who we work with.

5. Don’t Leave The Agencies Hanging

When you’re a marketer, the expectation is that the agency quickly responds to a client’s email or call. After all, you and your partners are trying to succeed together. Yet when you’re a prospective agency partner, it’s not surprising when calls or emails go completely unreturned after you’ve been through a review process. We've had the experience where client prospects don't respond for several weeks or even months. How do you think that reflects upon you as a client?

In one recent experience, we had a prospect from a very large enterprise technology organization ask our team to participate in an agency review. We had several phone calls to ask questions, we were briefed, we presented capabilities – and then silence for no less than six weeks. Only after we cc’d an email to our contact’s manager did the team finally respond.

Please keep in mind the countless hours that agencies put into responding to RFI's and pitches, and if the agency asks where you are in the decision process, a simple email with a status takes less than a minute. Be mindful, there are lots of people on the other end of that phone or email that thought about your business, who, whether they win or lose, be courteous and respond. And if we don't win, don’t feel anxious about reaching out and explaining why we fell short. We know how competitive the world is now, and even five minutes explaining why the fit wasn’t there is enormously helpful.

Now that you have an idea of what you need to think about in advance of issuing an RFI or conducting an agency review, feel free to read my other companion blog post, ‘How Marketers Should Structure Their Requests So Both Agency and Client Benefit.’It’ll help with thoughts around what should go into an RFI.

If you have any questions about how to handle an agency review, I’m more than happy to have a conversation, and in many cases point you in the right direction for an agency partner. (Yes, even if it’s not us.)

Let us help your innovation-driven brand get the credit it deserves.

Contact Greg Straface at [email protected]

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