When It Rains . . . : Bevy of Prospects Frustrates L.A. Shops

As L.A. agency execs chase a burst of new business after a long, dry spell, they’re asking whether the cumbersome, early-round process is worth the trouble.
‘The business climate is tougher, clients are seemingly uncomfortable with making decisions capriciously and are hiring a bevy of consultants and trying to ferret out every detail about every agency,’ said Mendelsohn/Zien, L.A. president Richard Zien. ‘It gives one pause to wonder why, in a business where creativity is everything, it would appear more decisions are being made based on non-creative issues.’
After a long wave of quiet, reviews for five major accounts emerged simultaneously: $15-20-million HomeBase, $10-15-million Baskin-Robbins, $10-million Secure Horizons, $8-10-million Sega of America and $25-30-million First Interstate Bank. HomeBase and B-R issued in-depth questionnaires to oodles of shops, while Secure Horizons requested extensive samples of creative. All five clients are using review consultants, and in most cases, agencies are competing in two, three or four of the contests.
More than a few agency exces wonder if the consultants don’t have their own agendas in mind when they blanket the community with questionnaires, particularly since consultants have traditionally been used to weed out agencies from the start. Says Joe Cronin, president/ceo at Saatchi & Saatchi/Torrance, Calif.: ‘If I were a company marketing head, I might put together a list and have some idea of why I put those agencies on it. Is it being done so the company can find out more about the agency? Or so consultants can make more money?’
At best, the questionnaires are tedious and time-consuming. At worst, these agency heads say, they can’t possibly reveal the strengths or weaknesses on which agency selections should be based. Meanwhile, the odds of making initial cuts are dwindling compared to the time it takes to complete the questionnaires.
HomeBase’s questionnaires spanned 36 areas of operations, some including as many as four question each. One example: ‘What is your concept of fair compensation? How do you determine this?’ That, in addition to 10 other questions specifically detailing compensation approaches.
But beggars can’t be choosers. ‘We’ve spent a week-and-a-half of inordinate time filling out questionnaires,’ said Stranger & Associates president Peter Stranger. ‘It’s the price of entry and we accept that. But I don’t want to be in too many of these unless I think I can win.’
HomeBase vp/marketing Dave Kenshall said consultants are essential. ‘To waste the time of the agencies and our time doesn’t make sense,’ he said. So why open the questionnaire phase to all shops? ‘I didn’t want to . . . exclude a great candidate.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)