Agency Search: 6 Hints for an Effective Advertising RFP

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Sherry Shaffer

“Agency search is a lot like dating.”

–Authoritative people with opinions

The current agency/client relationship lasts on average less than three years. In 1997 it was around five. In 1984, it was a little more than seven.

If choosing an advertising agency is like dating, then that growing divorce rate shows that we all—agencies and clients alike—are getting worse and worse at the mating game.

I’m a little sick of the analogy but there’s no denying it fits. Yes, you need an emotional connection and chemistry, but agency search is a serious business decision. You can’t just swipe right and find your perfect partner. That means you need a process.

For most companies, that process begins with a request for proposals (RFP).

Don’t get me wrong, I’d actually like to see RFPs go completely out the window (I’m not alone, see Avi Dan’s great Forbes article on Why the RFP is a Waste of Time). You get a much better feel for that elusive connection and chemistry—and workflows, and creativity, and process and depth-of-knowledge—if you do some homework and then assign your favorite agencies a small test project.

But most companies still use RFPs when they start their agency searches.

If you’re in the agency search game, the Association of National Advertisers and 4A’s put together a comprehensive white paper on agency selection that has all the information you might want from research phase to final selection. It has extensive advice on providing background information on your company and 18 agency questions you should consider including in your RFP.

What follows isn’t in that document, but can help save you time, money and frustration.