Let’s pick the one we dislike the least

Care-o-meter-1 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.

2 thoughts on “Let’s pick the one we dislike the least

  1. Thanks for sharing, Roger. I naturally agree with every single word of your post. To further illustrate your comments, we recently won the social media account of a well-known brand. One of the holding company PR firms still handles the traditional PR but, surprise, surprise, they’re skating on very thin ice because the entire account team keeps turning over. That sort of thing simply doesn’t happen to smaller and midsized firms.

  2. What would be really interesting to see is a behind-the-scenes video of those same clients when the “you won’t get fired” decision turns out to be a bad match that costs the company too many dollars in an economy with too few to go around. Over the years I’ve been column fodder more times than I care to remember – heck, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been column fodder – but what I’ve learned is more often than not, what goes around comes around.
    Overhead is so overrated (and overpriced). Most clients don’t need and likely can’t benefit from what an Edelman, F-H (or H-F these days) or Burson offers. Those that need those resources should buy them, of course, though they may have to accept the churn and burn that often accompanies the big boys and girls. But until and unless our economy heats back up to pre-crash levels – or maybe even pre-9.11 levels – I believe most clients will want to pay only for what they need and for the steady, consistent and personal attention they can from experienced, agile and highly networked small/mid-sized firms. And the firms like this I know through the Counselors Academy (www.counselorsacademy.org) have some of the brightest and most talented consultants I’ve ever met.
    No one ever got fired for buying IBM, to be sure. But no one ever got fired for buying the same or better level of quality results for less. And based on the new business results we’re seeing at our firm, Forge Communications (www.forgecommunications.com), it seems a number of clients are realizing this.
    Overhead is so over.