Too often, marketers jump into a marketing agency search without really thinking about what they want, what they’re trying to address, and where to look.

The marketer has received a few recommendations, they have some ideas about what would be cool to have as an agency, but they’ve not really thought it through.

Was managing a search for a hospital last year where the CEO told the marketing folks that he’d really like to be working with some of the big networked agencies (like DDB, JWT) AND he wanted an agency that had hospital experience.  Well, newsflash…most of those big agencies don’t carry hospitals on their roster.  And most of those agencies (as I’m learning in our most recent search for a big Grocery Retail chain) require minimums of $1M for a retainer before even opening up conversations with prospective clients.

So why do many marketers struggle when trying to manage a search?

Steps for agency searchMost often, as we find in our annual surveys (see RSW/AgencySearch surveys), marketers simply don’t have the time or the purview to see all the potential options available to them today.

With so many agencies out there, with so many specialties, it gets tough knowing just where to turn.

Here are 5 things you can consider doing to help you the next time you try and manage a search on your own.

Some do require a bit more time, but like they say, good quality work in…great output, out.  So make the time, or get someone to help you with the time, and you’ll be happier with the output.Six-Sigma-Black-Logo

  1. Define your business and marketing problems.  What issues are you having with your business?  What isn’t working with your marketing?  Spell these things out upfront as you’ll want the agencies ultimately to tell you how they’ve addressed similar problems before.
  2. Define where the current agency is falling down.  In a search we’re currently managing for a major telecom company, the issues with the current agency center on their inability to be proactive and strategic, their inability to lead the account as an advocate, and their problems with late and inaccurate delivery of information.  Again, probing for issues like this when you start looking for a new firm will help you avoid problems down the road.
  3. Define your goals and objectives from a business and marketing standpoint.  Defining this upfront will help you shape the “Challenge Document” as we call it.  In our world, this document outlines the expectations of each of the finalist agencies – telling them exactly what we want them to address.  As an example, the grocery chain I mentioned above…part of what they are trying to achieve is creating greater loyalty and relevance to their already solid consumer base…while at the same time building new users into their franchise – without alienating existing consumers.
  4. Define the parameters of what you want in an agency.  Big?  Small?  Close to home?  National?  Experienced in your category?  To what degree?  What are the mandatories and what are the “nice to haves”?  We are currently managing a search for a Caribbean Island tourism bureau and part of the search is looking for a creative agency.  They told me in our Scope of Search discussion that they find themselves meeting face-to-face with their creative agency because there is so much “on the ground”/tactical “stuff” that needs to get done, that they need them close by.  Not so much for the PR firm (which they’re also looking for), so the geography can be a bit looser for that part of the search.
  5. And finally, build a big list and don’t rush into it too quickly.  Don’t just rely on co-workers and your past experience with agencies to build your starting list.  There are plenty of resources out there (that are free) that can give you a start.  Two such resources are and  We usually start with about 20-30 agencies.  Pre-qualify them.  Narrow the list to about 15.  Interview them.  Then narrow the list down to about 7 that get the RFI.  Takes a bit of time…but well worth the effort.

So bottom line is try and take your time.  Prepare and you will find yourself happier in the end.  Certainly if all this still seems too overwhelming, give us a call.  We cost you nothing and we can help you find your way to a better place – just like we’ve done for the past 4 years for clients across a range of different categories.