Choosing The Right Agency Search Process For Your Needs

February 10th, 2014 | ACA Team, Association of Canadian Advertisers

By Stephan Argent, CEO, The Argedia Group

Stephan Argent
Stephan Argent

Let’s face it, an agency pitch can be a lot of work. It’s a lot of work for the agencies involved and it’s a time consuming exercise in logistics, exploration and evaluation for marketers, who need to determine the right questions to help find the best agencies for their needs.

Knowing there are a complex set of variables that need to be addressed in every pitch, we’ve identified and enhanced seven different pitch methodologies in conjunction with our partners at TrinityP3 in Australia to help marketers work through a process that’s most appropriate for them:

1. RFI-P

Approach: Up to twelve agencies are invited to submit their credentials in an RFI response document, from which a shorter list are then given a focused challenge to present. Two or three agencies are then shortlisted to present their financial proposals and staffing plans – the winning agency is then chosen.

Pros: Enables marketers to involve larger stakeholder groups and address procurement requirements within a stringent methodology.

Cons: The process doesn’t allow for the softer skills and requirements to be explored which is often an important part of a marketer’s requirements.

2. Creative / Strategic Review

Approach: No more than ten agencies are invited to submit credentials, then a shorter list are invited to attend a 90 minute ‘chemistry’ session. Two or three agencies are then shortlisted to run a strategic workshop with the marketer. Creative or strategic presentation follows from which the winning agency is chosen.

Pros: Marketers and candidate agencies get the opportunity to work together and see the agency in action – rather than listen to a one-way, pre-rehearsed presentation.

Cons: Focusing on the creative or strategic “wow” factor rather than the chemistry and process of how chemistry sessions were conducted can lead to longer-term disappointment.

3. Short Form Creative / Strategic Review

Approach: Identical to the Full Creative / Strategic Review, with the exception of the final presentation stage which is eliminated.

Pros: Can be appropriate in some digital pitches or when the marketer decides creative comparison may be too subjective to choose between agencies; places the focus squarely on chemistry and collaboration.

Cons: If agency outputs are important then this approach won’t give you a good sense of how well the agency can deliver and you could run into issues later.

4. Media Partner Review

Approach: Similar to the Short Form Creative Review – agencies submit credentials, then a shorter list are invited to attend a ‘chemistry’ session. Two or three agencies are then shortlisted to present a trading exercise using the marketer’s typical spend levels. We then benchmark and analyze the results.

Pros: As Nathan Hodges, Trinity P3’s General Manager puts it, in this process “no-one can say they didn’t know” – both the marketer and the agency will know who they’re really getting as a partner.

Cons: Media alchemy needs to be clearly defined and transparently shared with all parties to be able to do a true apples-to-apples assessment of performance.

5. Specialist Partner Review

Approach: As with other partner pitches, a credentials assessment, financial proposal and benchmarking analysis are the primary steps, but this kind of review includes a site visit and appropriate specialist assessment of the capabilities.

Pros: Very focused on the marketer requirements – whether technical partner, print supplier or post-production facility.

Cons: Highly reliant on the input the marketer provides to the specialist partner and the marketer having a well defined set of evaluation criteria tailored to specific needs.

6. Pitch In A Day

Approach: After a credentials review a day is set aside for each agency to work with the marketer on a specific business problem, with a view to solving it within that day. Once the financials are agreed upon, then the business is awarded.

Pros: Creates an intense environment where each side has a good understanding of how the other side thinks – and focuses on who’s actually going to work on the business.

Cons: The marketer needs to be confident in the short-list of agencies before the sessions begin otherwise the sessions will not identify a winning agency

7. Mix And Match

Approach: Say you’re seeking to change your Brand, Media and Digital agencies all at once. After credentials review, choose three or four agencies from each discipline and assign a Brand, Media and Digital agency to collaborate with each other and present together. After the presentations, match the best Brand, Media and Digital agency together for a final presentation.

Pros: You don’t have to go through three separate pitches to find the right agencies for each requirement.

Cons: Some agencies won’t play nice in the sandbox and you could rule out a really strong agency because the others were overshadowing the really strong player.

These are seven processes we’ve honed over the last few years. Which is the best approach for you and your business? Let us know what you think.

With thanks to collaboration and insight from Trinity P3’s General Manager, Nathan Hodges.


The ACA offers its members a number of valuable resources related to the broad topic of the client-agency relationship, including the publication Come Together: A guidebook for enhancing the value of the client-agency relationship. The ACA’s membership services also includes confidential advisory servicess regarding agency search and other MarCom agency relationship matters.

Read a more detailed version of this article on Argedia’s website.


Stephan Argent
Stephan Argent is CEO of The Argedia Group, Canada’s premier agency search consultancy. Follow him on Twitter @ArgediaGroup.