The Bad Review

There are six distinct types of bad account reviews, all of them aggravating and expensive for clients and agencies.

—The Cattle Call

It pains us to see questionnaires go out to 40 or more agencies. It suggests someone doesn’t know what they’re doing or, worse, is padding the assignment. When you consider conflicts, requirements and culture, there aren’t 40 agencies right for any client. One of the reasons a client hires a consultant is to ensure that he only talks to realistic contenders.

—Criteria du Jour

The classic “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Usually this happens when a consultant doesn’t help the client clearly focus on his real needs. It’s tough to get an agency’s best thinking when it doesn’t know what today’s ground rules are, and tougher still for a client to make the best selection.

—The Ad Hoc Committee

Every review should adhere to the “Miss the meeting, lose your vote” rule. Good consultants require a consistent cast of client decision makers. How do you make an educated choice when everyone hasn’t seen everything? We don’t know, but it has to be more of a random walk than any competent consultant would allow.

—The Open-Ended Schedule

Believe it or not, we’ve seen a review stretch over nine months. Some of the agencies didn’t even know if it was still going on. One of the consultant’s roles is to be an expediter and communicator, qualities clearly lacking in this kind of review.

—The Fix

The outcome is predetermined. This is irresponsible and despicable. A professional consultant should resign if he suspects this is the client’s true agenda.

—The Creative Gang Bang

The son of “Criteria du Jour,” but limited to creative. Agencies back up the vans and unload the storyboards, and the client sifts through to see what he likes. Maybe he’ll select the agency that produced the work. More likely he’s just looking for free ideas. Anyone, client or consultant, involved in this process is practicing intellectual larceny.

If you find yourself in one of these reviews, you’ve got some tough decisions to make. If you’re a client, you need to examine your process, ask some hard questions of your consultant and fix it. If you don’t, you risk the time, effort and money you’ve spent on the review and, worse, you risk choosing the wrong partner.

If you’re an agency, any one of these reviews can be expensive, financially and emotionally. The best choice may be to get the hell out. But almost no one ever does. Agency people are eternal optimists. They want to believe they’ll win, and they don’t want to believe they’re in a bad review. At agencies, new business is highly political. If you’re good, there are great rewards. No one wants to be seen as the person who pulls the plug on potential new billings, no matter what the reason.

Reviews should be a last resort, but sometimes change is inevitable. Clients, agencies and consultants all have a stake in fostering objective, efficient reviews. They lead to long-term relationships that produce great work and profitability for all.