3 Keys To A Successful Digital Agency Review

Throughout my marketing career, I have participated in countless agency reviews, both as a member of agency teams as well as on the client side of the table.  Digital agency reviews, brand agencies reviews, shopper marketing agency reviews, PR agency reviews.  For as long as I can remember, the review process has been one that leaves clients exhausted, agencies frustrated, and both parties asking the question, “Is there not a better way?”.


I believe there is but it takes constraint, collaboration and commitment.


Agency: “How many agencies are participating in the review?”


Client: “We have 10 agencies presenting in 90-minute time slots over five days.”


No wonder everyone is exhausted and frustrated.  Inevitably, many people throughout any client organization have worked with a variety of agencies; everyone has “a friend in the business” or an agency that they are comfortable with. Although I respect the attempt at inclusion and collaboration to drive ownership of the agency decision throughout your organization, how can you effectively evaluate 10 different agencies?  Resist the urge.

Making it better:

  • Allow the Marketing Department to run the pitch. Sounds obvious, but it’s not always done this way. First, identify a cross-functional group (i.e. Marketing, Executive, Sales, Operations, Procurement, Finance) to participate in the review process, and then leave the final decision to the Marketing Team, as they are the group who will be working with the agency day-to-day.
  • Establish a very tight list of agency criteria (e.g. experience, work, results, geography and culture) and narrow down your list of agencies to only those that meet each of your criteria.
  • Invite no more than three agencies to pitch your business



Agency: “Can we meet with the review committee prior to the pitch?”


Client: “In addition to the information we have provided in the RFP, we will set up phone calls with the marketing team and each agency to review further questions.”


In it’s current state, the RFP and agency pitch process is not a collaborative engagement.  The client identifies a list of agencies, sends out an RFP, asks the agencies to tackle an assignment and unveil their best thinking during an in-person meeting.  Most clients do indeed share a great deal of information about their business, as well as establish times for agency Q&A prior to the formal pitch, but for the most part, the parties work very independently of each other.  But there are still a few flaws in this model.   If you are giving agencies one chance to show their best work, you have to let them behind the curtain.

Making it better:

  • If you want an agency’s best thinking, they need access – access to your web analytics, access to your front line sales teams, access to your customers, access to you. I cannot tell you how many times we changed our recommended strategies after spending time in a client’s retail channel, with a franchisee, or with their sales organization. Really great insights are not manufactured; they come from looking beyond the “what” and really understanding the “why”.
  • Spend at least one full day with each of the three agencies at their offices in a working session. Give them a topic, challenge and/or opportunity specific to your business, give them access to the data they need to prepare, and have them conduct a strategy session with your team. Let them refine the strategies and bring the outcome of this session as the assignment for the pitch. I can think of no better way to battle test their process and their people, as well as to get a chemistry check. Demand that the agency team working on your business is part of the session; and if you really want to test the chemistry , take them to dinner afterward. It’s a small investment, and although this is business, it is personal. Get to know each other before you make a decision.



Client: “It’s not fair to the other agencies for to us to spend a full day with your agency, and not with them. And we just don’t have that kind of time to spend with every agency.”


Agency: “Do you want to be fair or are you looking to find the best agency partner?”


Do both. Be fair, and, make the time to spend with each agency.  This process requires a commitment, and your executive team is relying on you to make a wise decision. You’re asking your potential agency partners to invest time and resources to present business-building ideas.  Set aside the appropriate time and resources on your end as well.

Making it better:

  • Give yourself at least 90-120 days to run a full pitch. There’s a tremendous amount of prep work that has to be done before you talk to a single agency – data gathering and formatting, identifying agency criteria, securing recommendations, finalizing a short list of agencies, writing the RFP. Agencies need time to do great work on your behalf, while also continuing to do great work for their existing clients. And you need time to evaluate them effectively.
  • Pay the agency a stipend. This doesn’t have to be much – $5k, $10k, $25k -depending on the scope of the pitch and the overall marketing spend. This is more about the gesture and the recognition of the time and resource requirements associated with the pitch. I cannot stress to you enough how far this will go in sending a message of respect and partnership to these agencies. My guess is that the agency you ultimately hire will give the money back to you (I would), and the other two will walk away feeling as if they were treated fairly.

Constraint, Collaboration, and Commitment.  A little bit of love will go along way.

Views: 89

Tags: Agencies, Agency, Digital, RFP, Review


You need to be a member of FohBoh to add comments!

Join FohBoh

Comment by John Harris on August 23, 2012 at 12:01pm

Bill:  thanks for the comment.  Goal was to show opportunities to enhance the current foundational approach vs. just throw stones.  Any agency review is such an important, and at times, overwhelming endeavor.  Hope there are some nuggets here that readers can take away and apply. 

Comment by Bill Tobin on August 23, 2012 at 9:20am

I'm not doing a digital agency review, but if I was, I would certainly follow this advice.  I especially appreciate how you show the faults in what would normally be considered sound procedure, without making anyone look stupid.  Good article John!




Social Wine Club for Craft Wineries


Read the latest

Read the latest food and beverage coverage by SmartBrief in SmartBrief Originals: -More

Kids LiveWell turns 3 with 42,000 participating eateries

NRA's Kids LiveWell program has grown from 19 restaurant brands to 150, with 42,000 U.S.  -More


Posting a job or finding a job starts here at FohBoh. Call us about special $50 posting packages to syndicate across all major jobs boards.

National News

Ward Whitworth Named President for On The Border Mexican Grill

On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, which was recently acquired by Border Holdings, LLC, an affiliate of Argonne Capital Group, today announced the appointment of Ward Whitworth as President of On The Border.

The Melting Pot Targets Houston and El Paso, Texas for Franchise Expansion

Restaurants, Inc. announced today that it is actively seeking franchisees to expand its presence throughout the Lone Star State, naming El Paso and Houston as target markets for future franchise development.

Encore Restaurants Purchases 8 Existing Five Guys Restaurants, Plans to Develop 45 More

Encore Restaurants, LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Encore Enterprises, Inc., has announced the purchase of eight existing Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurants across central California including Elk Grove, Fresno, Lodi, Natomas, Roseville, Stockton, Tracy, and West Sacramento.

Takeout Orders to Hotels Jumped 125% in Popularity in Last Three Years

For many Americans, hotel room service is considered a travel luxury; however, data from PFK Hospitality Research1 suggests that room service revenues fell 9.5 percent from 2007 to 2012, with some hotels shuttering unprofitable operations altogether.

National Restaurant Association Praises House and Senate Commerce Committee Passage of Travel Promotion Act

Yesterday the National Restaurant Association (NRA) praised the House passage and Senate Commerce Committee markup of the Travel Promotion, Enhancement and Modernization Act of 2014. The bipartisan legislation reauthorizes Brand USA, the nation’s first global marketing campaign, to promote the United States as a destination for international travelers.


If you are looking for capital to start or grow your restaurant, create the next 501c3, develop and launch the next app for the restaurant industry,or want to help your peers in some meaningful way, we want to know about it.


TED: Ze Frank: Are you human? - Ze Frank (2014)

Have you ever wondered: Am I a human being? Ze Frank suggests a series of simple questions that will determine this. Please relax and follow the prompts. Let's begin …

TED: Heather Barnett: What humans can learn from semi-intelligent slime - Heather Barnett (2014)

Inspired by biological design and self-organizing systems, artist Heather Barnett co-creates with physarum polycephalum, a eukaryotic microorganism that lives in cool, moist areas. What can people learn from the semi-intelligent slime mold? Watch this talk to find out.

TED: Shih Chieh Huang: Sculptures that’d be at home in the deep sea - Shih Chieh Huang (2014)

When he was young, artist Shih Chieh Huang loved taking toys apart and perusing the aisles of night markets in Taiwan for unexpected objects. Today, this TED Fellow creates madcap sculptures that seem to have a life of their own—with eyes that blink, tentacles that unfurl and parts that light up like bioluminescent sea creatures.

TED: Nikolai Begg: A tool to fix one of the most dangerous moments in surgery - Nikolai Begg (2013)

Surgeons are required every day to puncture human skin before procedures — with the risk of damaging what's on the other side. In a fascinating talk, find out how mechanical engineer Nikolai Begg is using physics to update an important medical device, called the trocar, and improve one of the most dangerous moments in many common surgeries.

© 2014   Created by FohBoh.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service