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Playing With a Full Deck: Consultant Uses Controversial Card-Sort Technique to Discover Agencies’ Values By Beth Heitzma

CLEVELAND – White Castle executives last Thursday hosted a day-long transition meeting with

Rojek, an agency-search consultant based here, has stirred considerable debate during the past year and a half over its ASPEN CultureScan process, a tool it uses for matching agencies and clients that’s usually referred to by agencies as ‘the card sort.’
The idea is that the chemistry between client and agency is the key to their working relationship. While not disagreeing with that hypothesis, some agencies question whether chemistry really can be defined through the ASPEN process.
Rojek president Lorraine Rojek defends ASPEN (an acronym for Agency Search Procedures, Evaluations & Negotiations) as a valid way to determine whether an agency and client will be compatible based on a comparison of how the two organizations describe their value systems. In the White Castle review, as in others (such as Society bank) Rojek has run, top executives at both the client and prospective agencies were asked to sort a deck of 54 cards, each of which carries a value statement that might be used to describe their company, such as flexibility, being innovative, risk-taking, informality, fitting in, having a good reputation, or being results oriented. The cards are sorted into nine categories ranging from ‘most descriptive’ to ‘least descriptive.’
After data is processed and scored, Rojek and executive vp Jeff Cox – who’s worked at several agencies, including as director of new-business at Liggett-Stashower here – say they can offer clients a graphic illustration of how their priorities compare with those of the agencies involved.
‘It’s often fascinating when you look at how a client might rank a quality like risk-taking rather low, but an agency might rank it higher or vice versa,’ Cox said. ‘It’s important to note, however that a match is not always the best solution. Some clients are looking for qualities in an agency they don’t have.’
Cox emphasizes that the card-sort is only one element in the process, and not always a deciding factor.
Kim Bartley, director of marketing for White Castle, said the ASPEN process helped her company define and solidify its own priorities and goals, which in turn made the agency search easier. Fourteen White Castle execs were interviewed and completed the card sort. Bartley also selected an ‘ideal agency’ card ranking. Although the information was valuable, Bartley emphasized that card data was not the final decision-maker.
‘I think agencies misunderstand how that information is used,’ Bartley said. ‘We looked at the (questionnaire) responses and heard agency presentations and then looked to the card sort information as almost a final confirmation.’
Bartley said she didn’t want the decision on a new agency to rest upon ‘who you knew’ and ‘how good the dog-and-pony show was.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)