Agency search consultant Robb High's behind-the-scenes video (insert link) tells a fascinating tale of how clients select their PR and advertising partners.
High claims to have watched more than 150 agency pitches (talk about brutal! That sounds worse than sitting through an entire cricket match). In those meetings, says High, client decision makers almost always chose the lesser of all evils when selecting a firm.
They begin the selection process by agreeing on which agency they absolutely, positively, couldn't stomach working with (why those firms were invited to pitch in the first place positively baffles this blogger). Next, clients will eliminate those firms that, for whatever reason, simply didn't resonate in their presentations.
When they finally do settle on a winner, says High, the client often doesn't 'love' the new agency partner at all. Rather, the decision makers have agreed on the one firm they dislike the least. Inspiring, no?
Factored into the decision-making is how the decision maker will look to the other decision makers in the room. Typically, he or she won't want to appear either too radical or too conservative. So, what ends up happening is 'more of the same.'
As the old saying goes, "No one ever got fired for hiring IBM". And, apparently the same holds true for hiring, say, Weber, Edelman, Y&R or Leo Burnett. They may not be the best agency for the job, but they've survived the elimination rounds. So, let's give them a call, pop open some champagne and celebrate!
High also confirms what I've known in my gut for years. The incumbent agency, if it decides to defend the business, is ALWAYS the first one voted off Survivor Island. He says he counsels incumbents to save their time and money and, instead, look for a competitor in the client's category to represent. Wise counsel indeed.
There's nothing radically new in what High says, but it is interesting. The fog of war (or new business) can blur one's sightline into exactly how a client selects a new firm. In many instances, it isn't what the agency says or does right but, rather what it doesn't say or do wrong. While that may seem like the wrong way to choose a strategic partner, one has to remember that client decision makers report to other, more senior client decision makers. And, if one is worried about one's job, it's easier (and safer) to use the process of elimination. No one was ever fired for hiring IBM. Or Burson, Golin, J. Walter Thompson or BBDO.