Written By: Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz from RFP Associates 

You need to hire a new agency and you’re allocating a healthy budget for a multi-country campaign. The firms you’ve worked with in the past have been good but there’s some recurring concerns you’d really like to avoid this time around.

Where do you go to find that agency and, more importantly, remedy the problems you’ve experienced before? Research we completed earlier this year suggests that CCOs typically rely on non-competitive peers for agency advice, and tend to look at just a handful of candidate firms. This approach inevitably limits the comprehensiveness and the effectiveness of the search. It’s not because the recommendations are poor; it’s because nuances matter when choosing an agency. Your selection process should not be rushed, but structured to ensure you and your team can objectively evaluate the most-qualified candidate agencies, and ultimately select the best firm for your work and your company. 

Our recently released report on how Fortune 1000 CCOs select their agencies indicates that the highest-paid agencies produce the lowest satisfaction ratings among CCOs. This is significant, because while the annual fee budgets for those firms are typically above $1 million, CCOs concede that the pool of candidate firms, the scope of work descriptions, due diligence, evaluation, and reference checks they perform during the RFP process are all below par.

Indeed, our research and report paint a troublesome picture: companies dedicate more time and effort on hiring a $150k manager than it does the $1m+ agency.

What’s wrong with this portrait? Fool me once, shame on you. Twice, three times, then, perhaps, the approach to agency search and hire needs to change. The agency landscape has changed considerably since we began our careers: the bench and the talent pool are deeper, the stakes are higher, and the need to demonstrate ROI is omnipresent.

A better approach to agency search should include casting a wider net through resources like new online databases and agency search consultants; lengthening the selection timetable and involving your internal “clients;” objectively evaluating finalist agencies and not giving any a leg up; and holding firms more accountable from the start. Indeed, applying to your next agency search some of the same strategies and approaches your company’s HR department uses to hire individual executives or manager, will put you, your communications program, and your company on a better track. 

Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz founded RFP Associates after observing the agency selection process from “both sides of the aisle” and recognizing the need to streamline and improve the way searches are made and agencies are selected from an honest, unbiased approach. Their recent report, “The Impact of the Agency Selection Process on PR Programs and Outcomes” was created in partnership with CommunicationsMatch and Researchscape is available through the Institute for Public Relations.