Laws to help agency-client matching

I've given up trying to determine when the new business "phone" will be the busiest. But in my experience, things usually heat up in the 4th quarter - even this year, despite the economy.

I've given up trying to determine when the new business “phone” will be the busiest. But in my experience, things usually heat up in the 4th quarter – even this year, despite the economy.

It's about now that I start dreaming about new business nirvana – laws that I wish our industry would enact to make the new business process smarter and fairer, ones that would enable agencies and potential clients to find their perfect mates. Here are the laws I would lobby for:
 
  • Limit the number of firms that can be invited to pitch to six or less. Agencies, of course, would prefer to be alone in the room. But would-be clients too often think the more the merrier – maybe because they can't decide on big versus small, geography, or the experience needed. But when agencies learn that there are 40 firms being considered (as we recently did), the only conclusion is that the client couldn't possibly know what they want. If agencies decide to compete, the size of the competitive pool in itself is a disincentive to deliver the best work.
  • The brief must include clear business goals, and measurable marketing and communications objectives. A brief that gives cloudy direction will usually result in an off-target, wandering response. A brief that articulates an ROI is more likely to get a realistic response.
  • Answer questions directly. The way to get a firm's best ideas is to spend the time answering questions one-on-one. Agency conference calls rarely work as competing firms often avoid asking meaningful questions. Questions answered via mass e-mails shed little light.
  • Remove procurement from the creative brief. When procurement is the go-between on creative, it is virtually impossible to get good direction.
  • Give people time to think. “I want it tomorrow” produces only as much thinking as 24 hours allow. Give an agency two weeks to produce breakthrough, creative strategy.
  • Say “No thanks” and tell the real reasons why. It's hard to tell an agency “No.” But no firm should have to call to find out that it didn't make it, or worse, read about it in the trades. Such behavior is not only sloppy business practice, but it reflects poorly on the enterprise. Firms spend mountains of time on presentations. A debrief on reasons why something didn't go an agency's way is the way we'd all get better.
Or we could live by common sense. Recently, a potential client who said “no capabilities” approached my firm. He knew our agency, had done his research, and talked to people who had worked with us. He wanted to meet our senior person who would be his partner for a one hour conversation. If he felt it would be a good fit, he would then give the agency a real assignment and pay for it. Three agencies were asked to do this. The one who he feels does the best job, gets to be AOR.
 
Margi Booth is president of M Booth & Associates.

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