I recently surveyed senior-level marketers to get a fresh take on their approach to finding a new agency. A lot has changed in the industry over the last couple of years, and the era of the empowered consumer is in full swing. I want to make sure my prospecting aligns with the preferences and latest behavior of my future clients. I do these surveys from time to time because I believe it is critical to listen to the customer.
This survey was short and focused on what a marketer does when she or he needs a new agency. Some hire a search consultant, others walk down the hall to procurement, but most take on the task by themselves. I did not have a big sample size, about 125, hardly projectable but the respondents are the people I would be targeting for my agency clients, people who have budgets, hire and fire agencies, and work for brands we would all like to win.
A constant topic of discussion among agency leaders and business development people is where a marketer goes when she or he needs a new agency resource. Agency BD people are out in the market looking for these prospects trying to determine if there is a need, interest, and a fit. But agency advances are often ignored, discarded or worse, annoy or aggravate those very people they seek to engage. So, I asked the question.
1. What are the first things you do when searching for a new ad agency?
85% ask colleagues and friends for recommendations
84% check out agency websites
77% do Google searches
71% look at agency social media
50% search LinkedIn profiles
When you think about the implications, a couple of things come to mind. Asking colleagues and friends is at the top of everyone's list no matter what product or service they are buying. It is a missed opportunity when agencies don’t actively seek their connections’ help for referrals and recommendations or don’t encourage their clients to do the same. I spoke with an agency’s 15+ year client the other day if she was ever in a position to recommend the agency. She hesitated and then admitted she had never even though to do so.
How many agencies haven’t updated their website in years? There are a lot of good agency websites and a lot of bad ones. If the first place your prospect goes is your website and the experience is out of date, confusing, or doesn’t provide them with the right information that prospect is not going to waste their time going any further. That is even more important as the number of people using mobile increases. Could it be that 84% of your new business opportunity has come and gone, never to be heard of again?
How many agencies haven’t posted any social media or anything recently, or use their social channels for agency culture rather than to promote their agency? I’ve had many arguments with agency leaders, creative directors and social media managers about the purpose and role of the agency’s social media. Opinions vary, but too many feel that none of their prospects care about social media, never follow them, and so it should be reserved for agency culture and office pets. Or worse, they haven’t posted anything on their LinkedIn page since 2015. My survey isn’t statistically projectable, but it is consistent with what I’ve heard from prospects about the role social played in their opinion of the agency. Why are marketers increasing their social media spending if they don’t believe it works? Why wouldn’t an agency?
There is no denying that marketers are taking the search process into their own hands more often. The role of the search consultant has been steadily declining over the past ten years, and the tools and technologies readily available have made it so much easier. When they do, I want to know where they go looking. So I asked.
2. What other sources do you prefer to use to learn about new agencies?
76% Look in various Advertising and Marketing Trade Press and blogs
14% General and business press and blogs
12% Unsolicited calls and emails
11% Search consultant
Another frequent topic of debate among agency folks is what things about the agency are most important to a prospect when looking for a new resource. Are they looking for some wildly creative first impression or do they want to see busy people moving around the agency space? Maybe, but not their priority. Marketers have been pretty consistent about what they want to know at the start of their search to separate the qualified from the unqualified. They are driven by time, since they have so little to spare, to quickly determine if there is a fit or move on. If you slow them down, make their journey complicated or frustrating, or leave them to wonder, you may very well lose them.
3. What information do you look at first to determine if that agency is worth a further investigation?
85% Industry experience
67% Case studies
40% Audience experience
46% General capabilities
33% Client testimonials
21% Agency culture
0% Social Causes
It is no surprise that marketers have very little time. They are squeezed in every way imaginable. Staff reductions. Budget cuts. Increased responsibilities. More platforms and channels to oversee. Too many agency resources to manage. And, the list goes on. Agencies have some blame as well. We try to suck up as much of their time as we can. We fill their inbox, Overload their voicemail. It’s getting harder and harder to connect the more we try harder and harder to steal their time.
4. How many agencies reach out to you in a week?
43% up to 5
5. Estimate the number of agencies you (or procurement, or consultant) initially investigate before compiling a shortlist.
78% look at 5 – 10
14% look at 15 – 20
7% look at 25 or more
When approaching an RFP, opinions about how to answer it and how strictly to follow the rules are always varied. After all, many RFPs are written to eliminate uniqueness and homogenize all the agencies involved to make it easier to check the boxes, as if Joe Friday was the author – Just the facts, ma’am. Your approach depends on who is managing the process at the client and the number and types of people reviewing. To better understand the marketer’s preference, I asked.
6. When you invite an agency to respond to your RFP, in addition to your questions, what other factors positively influence your perception of the agency?
86% Additional relevant content beyond your questions
79% The quality of the design and creativity of the response
43% Short, to the point answers
36% The uniqueness of the response format or package
28% Strict adherence to your RFP format
21% Additional promo materials, branded wearables, or other promotional items
Beyond the data, I received a few good comments to help guide the agency’s approach.
Strategic quality of responses – and questions posed.
Social listening work/research to show you did your homework on our brand/category
Did they demonstrate an understanding of our needs, situation and take that into deep consideration in their answers?
Timely response - don't keep me waiting plus shows you are interested and demonstrates your ability to act quickly.
Case studies that demonstrate proven results in the area being investigated.
The ability to actually provide the solutions we are looking for. No B.S. And no fluff.
Throughout the process, foster an environment of genuine candor, empathy, and curiosity about our business, industry and cultural context of the organization.
There's a "cultural fit" that you can feel or not along the way in the bid process: whether they "get" you, understand your business challenges, and if you'll work well together.
The agency's ability to understand our challenge completely and whether they are disingenuous or real, authentic and genuine to their pitch. Clients can see right through it all.
It’s clear that the prospect does not have a good understanding of what the cost is for an agency to participate. A little more than half think agencies spend up to $5,000. We all know it’s a lot more. Of course, it depends on the type of pitch and the kind of client, but when you factor in hard costs, hours, and other expenses, the cost can go sky high. The investment might be worth the opportunity for the winner. The rest, not so much.
7. When you invite an agency to pitch, how much do you think it costs that agency to participate?
Finally, I asked participants to give some advice that might help agencies improve their chances of engaging. I got a lot of good comments and picked a couple to include here. One thing is sure; they weren’t shy about their advice.
I get 10-15 naive emails every week. Email agency promotion is often lazy. They need to attract me and my peers the way I would expect them to attract my customers, not pound on their doors.
I hate unsolicited, automated emails going to others in my office asking if they can connect the solicitor with the person responsible for marketing related. Do your own due diligence. It doesn't reflect well on an agency if they aren't going to do their own research rather than wasting the time of my colleagues.
Call me old school but pick up the phone and call. When I get an unsolicited email, it feels like a lazy approach to me. The last new agency I considered working with was one who called me on the phone. They took the time to learn who I was, reviewed my profile on Linked in, and then picked up the phone and called.
Stop asking about my company's marketing/advertising initiatives. Stop requesting 15 mins of my time to schedule another call with someone else at the agency. Be practical and show what your capabilities can do for my company - be proactive, be relevant!
Don't send an email; it will get deleted. Show me your capabilities in a unique way that will stop me and want to find out more.
Try showing me other similar clients you've worked with, and I will pay attention
Offer me unique insights in a quarterly communication that shows me you understand what I face, how business is changing. Do it in sensitive ways so I can learn about your unique agency capabilities and be more open to your unsolicited calls.
Do Great Work. Stay in Touch. Learn What's Important to Me. Pitch How You Can Help Me Achieve What's Important.
Be really clear on how you are the best at a certain something that is relevant to the client's needs - i.e., discipline, industry, lifecycle, cause, etc.
Research the company first. Know their size in revenue, know their products, services, brand, etc. Visit their stores (if possible) or at least visit the website. Shop it. Sign up for emails, loyalty program, etc. invest a little time to truly understand the company. Don't treat me like everyone else. If you want my attention and business, you have to earn it.
Don't brag about doing work for big brands (if you are soliciting a small brand) like Nike, Coke, Home Depot. We don't have the budget nor the resources, and it turns us off. Be respectful and do the back-end work and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Stop the madness with the cold-calling and repeated cold-emails. Stop sending emails to my boss or CEO. That infuriates me as CMO. They just send them to me anyway and shows you care less about developing a relationship with me and more that you are not interested in being a partner. Find a personal connection instead.
I’ve got a lot more ideas about how you can start or rethink your business development program, and I would enjoy sharing if you are interested. If you want help or simply want to talk about your business development program, I’m always open to a conversation. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. #LetsGrow!