Ad Consultant Sees Change in Agency Search Process

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There isn't the same degree of bonding between an advertiser client and its ad agency as there once was, according to a senior executive in the business.


The likely reason is that so many relationships begin with unanswered questions, resulting in a rocky start, said Julie Riegel of San Francisco ad consultant Partners & Allies. Riegel founded Partners & Allies in January with Candy DeSantis and Jane Palmer.


"They start without trust," Riegel said. "We'd like to help change this because we believe that great work is often the result of an honest, passionate and respectful relationship, and that many of the issues that start after the business has been awarded could have been dealt with during the search process."


Clients want what consultants call "big think, smooth ride," she said. The ideas and resultant work should distinguish advertisers from their competitors. They also seek service and execution skills, with more than one way to solve problems.


Riegel said advertisers particularly are curious to learn about new agencies or major changes at shops they know.


"We've made it a focus of Partners & Allies to know who works at which agency, what their backgrounds are, who has produced the best strategies and best work in a given category and everything about new agencies or small agencies that are as yet undiscovered," Riegel said.


Before starting Partners & Allies, Riegel conducted agency searches for more than eight years with Riegel DeSantis Communications Consulting. That search consultancy helped Apple Computer and Line 6 look for DM agencies, Bacardi Global Brands and Inktomi seek database shops and Ariba find a general ad agency. Adobe and Affymetrix were matched with corporate identity and design firms.


The Apple search was conducted in the fall. Apple Corporate Direct Marketing sought an agency with direct and interactive skills. The shop needed proven success and experience in areas like customer acquisition, loyalty marketing and database operations. Agencies short-listed included Carat Interactive, Brann San Francisco, Tequila and SF Interactive. Brann was the winner.


Agency searches have evolved over time. Clients need help understanding the new agency landscape. Mergers, acquisitions, launches, expansions and closures have complicated matters.


"Until the last few years, it was sometimes difficult to get an agency to talk to a client because they were so busy during the boom time," Riegel said. "Now every agency, regardless of size, is willing to hear about a new client opportunity."


Until three years ago, she said, many clients wanted agencies with creative brilliance. Everyone wanted pizzazz. Now more clients are talking about communications that sell and deliver results and are wanting to focus on specific products or solutions to deliver their messages.


"Most clients [also] are very concerned about fair compensation, pricing and pricing practices for a lot of reasons," Riegel said. "Slimmer budgets, for one, and possibly a belief that they haven't always gotten an honest answer in the past.


"They want full disclosure on profits and margins," she said. "They want to know everything about why and how they're being charged. They want to 'get inside' of the production process, pricing and mark-ups. We've seen more involvement from a client's procurement department than ever before. We try to get the big questions about compensation and pricing answered during the search so that the relationship can begin on the right foot."


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