Let's Rethink Agency Reviews. This Is the Year

Face it, the process has been bloated

It’s happening again: A wave of high stakes agency reviews is upon us. Cue the industry panic and the existential reckoning.

But what if I told you that this year’s pitch-a-palooza doesn’t have to be painful and scary. Instead, we believe —given that agencies are going through this process in a pandemic-driven, remote working environment—we all have a chance to reinvent the review process. Maybe we’ll all come out of this with better client relationships.

It might sound ironic, but from what we’ve seen so far, I’m very hopeful.

In fact, this month marks a milestone for the agency industry; some have completed several reviews that ran 100% virtual.

You might reasonably expect that these reviews are being driven by cost. But here’s a surprise—innovation and business transformation are driving the majority of them, at long last. This might be just what the industry needs.

At the same time, we’re determined to prevent Q4 from becoming dominated by cancelled weekend plans and hair-pulling “you forgot to unmute” video sessions that go nowhere. Instead, here are some new guidelines to both modernize and humanize the agency pitch process:

Get to the point with a superpower pre-Screen

Agencies and clients both could benefit from some serious editing. Define their superpower and how that relates to their perfect client. They should be able to articulate what you already have internally so you can be a true power couple. This results in far smaller invitee lists for many of our reviews and therefore more quality time that can be spent between potential agency suitors and their client counterpart.  

Let’s face it: In recent years, the pitch process has become bloated, with every agency claiming to be proficient at everything and right for every client. The decks were too long, and there were way too many people in the room.

It turns out, Zoom forces a welcome discipline. Agencies that commit to knowing who their perfect clients are can also focus more directly on the talent, tech and operating model that is able to deliver vs. trying to be all things to all people. This should result in better decisions and better client/agency matches.

Prove it by test driving live

We all learned during quarantine that brands and agencies can move much faster when they need to and don’t always need months of strategic deliberation and deck refinement. So why not apply that learning to the review process?

Indeed, you can learn more about the innovation, optimization and operational excellence of an agency by seeing what they do with a $20,000 test budget than you can with a hypothetical 100-page PowerPoint bringing to life a $20 million budget without any accountability to deliver. Clients willing to set aside pilot tests see immediate agency differentiators and can address the difficult question of setting baseline future expectations in their agency contracts. Agencies can forego the typical pitching costs that can exceed $100,000 (even $1 million when we’re back in the air again) by offering a test campaign worth a fraction of the cost. 

Reinvent your relationship

Now is a more important time than ever for agencies to re-introduce themselves to clients, and for clients to be upfront about their changing structure, capabilities, growth requirements and demands.  When was the last time you had an open, honest 360 review with your partner? This is a great time to update your agency on how you have evolved as an organization in the past six months and how your agency could adjust to meet your needs.  

We have all been through enough change and surprises these past few months. So let’s find ways to take the pain out of the review process and think twice before jumping into a competitive pitch if the transformation we need might be within the newly expanded walls of our agency team. 

Instead of bemoaning the agency model or the uncertainty of the fickle client service business, let’s reinvent a whole new way of working and finally build the modern, nimble and forward-thinking agencies and brand organizations we’ve all been talking about.