Are search consultants still a key part of the RFP or agency selection process?

Search consultants have a valuable track record as part of the RFP process.


Bruce Ginsberg, Director and growth catalyst, Emanate
Business development experience stretching more than 20 years

Search consultants have a valuable track record as part of the RFP process. Whether the company is a large corporation, startup, government agency, or industry trade group, they rely on the search consultant to select the right agency. Often, the consultant is weighing not only a firm's PR capabilities, but also whether it has the qualifications, industry expertise, and talent to support the prospect.

Here are a few reasons why search consultants remain critical to the RFP process:

  • Staying current. In a rapidly shifting agency landscape, in-house marcomms teams don't have time to stay current with evolving agency capabilities. Search consultants do. They can offer options to the prospect they might not have considered. Matching the prospect's need to the agency's capability is a complicated task. This is particularly important as the marcomms discipline continues to fragment.
  • Marriage of culture. Just as important as matching need to ability is matching corporate cultures to agency cultures. Because the agency-brand relationship can be like a marriage, this chemistry is key to success. Leaders in this field have elevated better and longer-working relationships for clients and agencies to an art form.
  • Efficient time management. Consultants bring much-needed efficiency to busy marcomms teams who are already strapped for time as they support their brands. By immersing themselves in the brand identity and culture, they provide real value in helping clarify the client's needs and objectives. Finding the right agency partner in a precise, labor-efficient effort is a clear win for all.

Just as firms give responses to an RFP their best effort, we can't underestimate how time consuming and complex the RFP process can be for prospective clients, too. Search consultants are catalysts for saving time, optimizing budgets, clarifying the mission, and finding the right cultural and capabilities fit. They provide the quality assurance a company wants to ensure the right firm is hired.


Aaron Kwittken, CEO and managing partner, Kwittken & Co.
More than two decades of agency experience, including six-plus at his own firm

A lot of agency and client-side people believe search consultants are a necessary evil, though they aren't convinced the pros outweigh the cons. So what agency guy, in his right mind, would ever publicly challenge the value of search consultants? Me, sort of.

I've seen my fair share of new business pitches over the past 20 years, big global shootouts and beauty contests alike. I truly believe certain search consultants and consultancies provide a valuable service. But in today's environment, is this service absolutely necessary?

Before the Internet, search consultants, and recruiters for that matter, were able to market their own "networks" and market intelligence "tools" to determine which firms would be invited to pitch. Then, they would rely on and tout their many years of having worked at agencies themselves to help clients find the perfect bride. It was a model that worked.

Fast forward to 2012. Client-side administrators and junior staffers armed with the right criteria and Internet access can easily create an initial list of agency prospects to cull from. After that, a simple chemistry check and credentials meeting can take place to trim the list further and then a few firms are asked back and given an actual assignment to pitch against each other.

In the ad world, where agencies steward tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, search consultants play a vital counseling role. In PR, though, we are pitching just a fraction of that and we're starting to question whether search consultants are really more of a "nice to have" than a "must have."

In today's environment, where we have access to information previously owned only by specialists, search consultants must add more value to necessitate their use by PR folks. Should they have more skin in the game? What if they were paid half their fees up front and the rest based on the winning agency's performance after one year? If the newly ordained agency doesn't work out, they don't get paid the rest.

It's a new Game of Thrones, search consultants. As Lord Stark said, "Winter is coming."

PRWeek's View
Client-side communications executives should seriously consider whether they need to use search consultants in an agency selection process. Considering the technology and search tools available, it might not be cost effective.

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