Today, both agencies and marketers alike love to talk numbers. And it’s not surprising that metrics have become a core component of the agency selection process. After all, numbers enable marketers to make more of an apples-to-apples comparison of a shop’s capabilities against the competition.
More recently, however, some marketers have tried to further integrate this type of objectivity into the agency review process. For better or worse, it’s created a procurement-driven agenda that in some instances removes the human quotient from the process. Increasingly, marketers not only request metrics from potential agency partners; they also grade them with a credentials checklist and pitch assignment.
This represents a major shift from the long gone “Mad Men” days. No longer do agencies consistently win business by wining and dining prospects. Instead, marketers complete a more accountable selection process based on past results and measurable successes.
While most of us will agree that focusing on results leads to better decision making, a closer look at the evolving agency selection process suggests finding the right partner should be about more than just process and numbers. Marketers can help their cause by acknowledging the shifting approach and asking themselves a few tough questions:
1. What advantages does this new procurement-driven, numbers-focused approach offer?
2. Are there any disadvantages to this process?
3. What can we learn from “Mad Men?”
The Science of Procurement
Metrics enable marketers to better compare one agency’s track record against another on a more level playing field. A baseline credentials check can also help marketers take care of some preliminary decisions by weeding out agencies not qualified to run their programs, and a pitch assignment can help marketers understand how different agencies might approach their business.
Positively, this procurement-oriented approach helps marketers guarantee they make decisions based on a logical, multi-step process that considers multiple factors of varying importance. Conversely, this procurement style of agency selection also brings with it a few disadvantages.
The Art of Making Choices
The glaring void inherent in this approach often ends up being a lack of chemistry between marketer and agency or a lack of concern about the human element and the marketing pros behind the score sheet. When this happens, the results can sometimes be counterproductive and result in major misalignment between marketer and agency.
In some instances, this procurement approach can inhibit creativity or create a disadvantage for agencies that call for a more strategic realignment of activities. The best approach can be a completely different one and simple, objective grading systems often fail to award innovative thinking—the kind of thinking that can transform a campaign. Although making this type of a strategic shift can cause a short-term dip in results, the long-term gains brought about by well-informed realignment often pay big dividends.
A strict focus on remaining objective can also limit the chemistry marketers can build with their partners or minimize the importance of an agency’s desire to do good work. After all, some of the best strategic thinking and big ideas result from productive collaboration between marketers and their agency partners, and the most qualified agency partner in the world won’t serve a marketer well if it lacks excitement about winning the business and providing excellent service.
Staying a little “Mad”
Although most of us will agree we should not go back to the three-martini lunch days of “Mad Men,” that long gone era can keep fresh in our minds the importance of building chemistry between marketer and agency. It also stresses the importance of hard work and excitement; the last thing we need is an over-meticulous focus on accountability that drains the creativity out of advertising.
Instead of allowing that to happen, marketers and agencies need to keep generating fresh perspectives about their work and fascinating the participants that interact with their brands. Accountability is of the utmost importance, but let us hold one another accountable at a strategic level, too, and not get so caught up in tactical metrics that we lose sight of the big picture.
Of course, the liquid lunch is totally optional.
Michael Kahn (Michael.email@example.com) is senior vice president, client services at Performics and a monthly contributor to Chief Marketer.