What wins in a marketing agency searchWhat wins in a marketing agency search?

Was sitting at a bar last week while on vacation (what a surprise)…and sitting next to me was John Dooner, the former CEO of McCann WorldGroup (another, this time, real surprise)!

We got to talking about his life and his accomplishments – which were in far excess of mine – and got into the discussion about what wins in an agency search.

“It’s all about the creative” is what he said to me.  I politely agreed but deep down was thinking that yes, back in your day creative was king.  In the Mad Man era of advertising it was all about “the bigger, the better”.  Today is a different world.

I believe that in today’s world, it’s about insights, analytics, and smart strategy – that will ultimately feed into great creative ideas.

You don’t need to bring great creative ideas to the table to prove you can deliver the goods.

Completed an agency search for a client about a month ago and we brought in two of the original seven agencies into the final pitch.  One did a real nice job of following the “Challenge Document” (that outlines the requirements of what we want them to present) and the other went off the script purposefully.

The one that stayed true to the script presented three campaign ideas and all three were sound…and creative and really did a nice job of showing the breadth of the agency’s ability to execute across different platforms.  Problem was, there was no meat on the bone.  No strategy backing up the ideas.   When the client asked the agency “How did you come to these ideas?”, there was a lot of hemming and hawing, but nothing concrete.  They built them up without any real platform  securing their foundation.

The other agency did none of that.  Instead they presented insights that they had gleaned and did a nice job of talking different strategic platforms they could follow to help the client get to a better place.  They reviewed the unique sources of insights that they had access to and shared with the client the unique advantage the client would have in partnering with them because of these resources.  They discussed their capabilities across different media platforms and presented case studies to back up their claims of expertise.  They also did a nice job of showing the client how they would use their sophisticated analytics to make sure that what they put together worked for the client – and how they would make the adjustments necessary as the program evolved to keep it working for them.

At the end of the day, the client selected the agency that built up the confidence the most – the agency that showed the client that they had the team and the tools and the will to tackle the client’s problems in a smart, well organized, and thoughtful way.

Of course one hopes that the work they do will match the work they have done for their other clients.  But that’s a small concern given the agency’s past success.

So in some respects I do agree with John Dooner.  Creative is important…but only if it’s backed up with the right foundation of insights, analytics, and smart strategy.

Here’s to seeing you next year John!