NEW YORK The chance to work with a hot brand like Zappos is too much for many agencies to pass up, even when it means pouring in tons of time, effort and money into a Byzantine review process in which they have little chance of succeeding.
Zappos recently got RFP responses from 104 agencies, with 22 then chosen to do 90-minute presentations at Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas this week. In an unusual twist, it required shops to submit storyboards and ad mockups for the initial round, all in a tight two-week turnaround.
While many agencies privately grumbled, one that was not chosen as a finalist offered unusually public criticism that the review exemplified all that is broken in the account review process. In a blog post, Ignited executive creative director Mike Wolfsohn said a site the agency set up for the review was given only a cursory glance by Zappos employees, with just five of the 25 pages of the site viewed -- and the page presenting the team that would work on the account not among them.
"If agencies are going to spend weeks preparing their response, the least any client can do is commit 30 minutes to look at it," he wrote.
The post echoed the private complaints of many shops that took part in the review for the $7 million account. Zappos is meeting with agencies this week, through Friday.
When reached by Adweek, Wolfsohn said he took the unusual step of calling out questionable client behavior publically because he thought it was "time that someone spoke up about the flawed review process." Wolfsohn proceeded with the support of his management team and within hours of his post, he said he had received more than 100 e-mails, the vast majority of which were supportive. Most came from agency leaders but a "handful" were from client marketing executives, according to Wolfsohn.
For its part, Zappos held its ground. CEO Tony Hsieh told Adweek late last week, after agency executives privately complained, that "no one is being forced to apply" while acknowledging nobody at the company had experience in agency reviews.
Zappos business development and marketing exec Aaron Magness said the company was overwhelmed by the response it received after the RFP was posted on Adweek.com. It originally had a list of 16 agencies to get the RFP. After the story ran, 170 contacted the company asking to receive it; 104 replied. Magness said all of the agencies were told their chances were slim.
"If you still feel you can provide a response and it's worth your time to go through that trouble, I'm not going to stop you," he said.
From the over 80 additional shops that responded to the RFP, Zappos added another six agencies to the 16 already presenting this week. Agencies which did not advance were told "over 80 agencies" responded.
While Magness noted that Zappos received a hard copy of all proposals and held a discussion with each agency on the list, he said the high volume of responses required a quick review of materials.
"A client can get a pretty good sense if this is a thought starter or direction that makes sense right now," he said.
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