Putting your best foot forward: Taking the agency roster route

Many of us have been involved in agency searches that seek to either consolidate the current roster of firms to one AOR or to abandon an AOR for a pre-approved roster of agencies.

Many of us have been involved in agency searches that seek to either consolidate the current roster of firms to one AOR or to abandon an AOR for a pre-approved roster of agencies. Either way, the participating firms are in for some unique challenges. Having an understanding of what's driving the client change can go a long way toward providing insights that will help make or break your pitch.

Agency support models for clients are constantly changing. Just about the time it seems that the pendulum has swung in one direction and most companies have settled on one model, the trend reverses and they start down the other path. Right now that path is trending away from the all-things-to-all-people AOR and toward the multiple agency roster model. Why?

Part of it is that clients demand the best and brightest work at all levels and in all categories of their business. While many clients bought into the AOR promise, expecting senior-level strategy and world-class creative ideas across the multiple elements of the PR program, not to mention an AOR's assumed business efficiencies, the reality is that clients often receive inconsistent service from practice to practice and office to office.

The other part of the equation is the steadily increasing demand by stakeholders for client companies to hit their sales quotas. PR firms are no longer immune to sales support expectations.

Here are some pointers inspired by recent examples of agencies we've seen who have shown their best stuff in a roster agency review.

  • Pick your several best practice areas and pitch them passionately. Sure, you've grown to be good at many things, but it will make all the difference to this client if you can say, “While we have many capabilities, we know your industry and business, and we are sure that these are the areas in which we can help you succeed.”

  • Use your best intuition, not to mention some solid research, to decide which practice areas and capabilities match up best with this client's wants and needs.

  • Take a chance. After showing them what they've asked for, go outside the box and show a capability you believe they need. If you do this right, it could demonstrate an even deeper knowledge of the client's business.

  • Show that you're a team player and a true marketing partner. Describe client situations in which you've been a key team member of a group of agencies that have positively impacted the client's business.

  • Assign a senior-level agency/client liaison. Describe how this person will learn the client's internal processes and culture, and be available, on a moment's notice, to marshal the right agency team for the challenge.

We all have opinions about whether the roster trend is good or bad for the agency business. The bottom line: clients still need the agency support, they're just getting really picky about how they're going to get it.
 
Dan Orsborn is a senior partner at SelectResources International, where he heads the PR agency search practice. He can be reached at dan@selectr.com.

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