Insight: Non-Fluffy Agency Search by Andrew Melsom

What makes Agency Insight stand out? We’d define it as “NFAS”.  Non-Fluffy Agency Search.

The agency market is a complex one. There are a wide range of specialisms and offers. It’s not good enough to supply information to clients based on glad handing and party circuitry. We like to party, but it isn’t how we find out about who is doing the great work, or who is talented and has the capacity to offer a client 40% of a team’s time.

The first part of finding agencies is not much fun and pretty manual. We don’t trawl through databases of agencies as these are always 100% out of date. But we know where to look and who is planning to move. We’ve appointed start-ups before they started up. We appointed CHI to the Tango business when they were competing with builders in socks for space. 18Feet&Rising won the Nationwide business from chaotic and dreadful premises and joint won their first work for the Royal Marsden Hospital – all through Agency Insight.

There’s a detailed process. You don’t end up with a magnificent but functional building by asking great bricklayers; you ask brilliant architects. The process should be there to ensure the client gets the best that is possible to meet their brief. The right process is the one engineered to ensure this.

Whilst the stepping stones of the process should be broadly familiar, the stages should be constructed to ensure the right result. If an agency asks a brilliant question during the creation of their proposal should it be automatically copied to the other pitching agencies? In our view, no. We’ve been in selection processes where all the agencies have been briefed or Q&A’d as one, or know that all the questions are being copied to all agencies participating and they have been as silent as the grave as agencies don’t want to give away where they are going or what they really think. How can this be good for the best end result?

We’re not totally comfortable with the ‘intermediary’ tag. It suggests that we’re lurking somewhere in-between where agencies and clients exist. Clients are looking for the source of the talent in the heat of the jungle where we also live. Jungle drums can summon us and we will offer guidance to clients on a vastly changing and complex eco system in which we are embedded. Think David Bellamy (if you like) – quite animated when he discovers a glorious grub. We will share this excitement with our clients and their prospective agencies and nurture it – and generate more grubs. At Agency Insight, we want to evolve something special as we have done for innocent drinks, Revlon, Aviva and even the Hunny Monster! We’re in the middle, yes, but with all the parties there as well.

We have strong views on fees paid to consultants. If you are paying a consultant to provide detached, non-aligned and scrupulous advice that will determine which agencies you should see, and which you should avoid, then much better that your advisor is not receiving fees from any agencies at all. Much better to rely on solid quantitative and qualitative information together with an honestly given market commentary on each candidate company. What are these fees that intermediaries receive? Well, they are not always expressed as such.

  1. There is the simple subscription where agencies pay to be on the list at a register. If you don’t pay you don’t get on the list. There’s often a bizarre pricing system where big agencies pay more than small ones, but the principle is the same: “…you pay us and in return for paying us, we will impartially recommend you. If you don’t pay us we are unable to impartially recommend you”. There are many of these registration type companies all looking for agencies to pay them money.
  2. Some consultants take commissions based on the first year’s income earned by the winning agency. This can corrode the advice given about which agencies should go forward as not every agency will comply with this arrangement.
  3. Some agencies are asked to be a member of a club so that they can meet other agencies and debate issues, but at the behest of the intermediary. Ask any agency caught up in this clumsiest of covenants and they will tell you that this is nothing but a “tax in order to be preferred”. They pay it of course, because they fear exclusion, but they jolly well don’t like it.

We believe that a strong brief is a vital part of the selection process. We think every client has a question; a simple one, probably. But there is just one question to which their company seeks an answer. We work with clients on the brief to unearth this question. And this usually goes beyond “selecting an agency”. We work more on the basis of “selecting for a brilliant future for your brand, or answer to your business problem”.

For Norwich Union the question became “How can we be one of three insurance companies that are asked to give a quote?” (they were number five, and so were missing out). The challenge picked up by AMV BBDO was to find a device that was as famous as the Direct Line telephone, and link this with their name. The “Quote Me Happy” line has since become a brand.

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