What if the Traditional Agency Review Process Was All Wrong? Say it Ain’t So, Joe.

agency-reviewIt happens every day. Ad agency reviews, media agency reviews, PR agency reviews… On any given day, a billion dollars in business can go up for grabs. Companies want to cut costs, see fresh creative, hire new CMOs or fall out of love with their agency; the reasons are plentiful. It’s agency review time; let the games begin.

For an organization – a company or institution or business practice – reviewing new agencies, it’s only natural to want to know about their relevant experience. If you are a healthcare organization, you want to know about the agency’s client and campaign experience in the healthcare space. If you are a CPG company, you want to know about other CPG clients the agency has supported.

But sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes you want to drill deeper and get even more specific. So if you are the CMO for a national drug store chain, you don’t want to know about the agency’s general retail experience, you want to know what other national drug store chains the agency has serviced.

You want to see the brand names, the work, results and maybe even a few testimonials and awards.

It makes sense… I guess.

For an agency, you naturally assume every prospect wants to know how much you already know about their industry, their markets, their competitors, their customers, the media, the trade shows and more. In fact, most agencies generally assume they need to get deep into the weeds. If you’re pitching a preneed funeral insurance carrier, you better be prepared to talk not just about your insurance industry experience, but your expertise in the preneed space, working with funeral homes and cremation societies and cemeteries… oh my!

So agencies do what they do – assemble teams and prepare PowerPoint presentations that cover all the bases and address all the details, including the work, the results and the testimonials.

And this makes sense too… I guess.

Or maybe it doesn’t make any sense at all.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the dating scene, but I am pretty sure I never met a woman who asked or expected me to talk about my previous dating experience. In fact, I am fairly positive that had I even mentioned “the last woman I dated,” my chances of progressing with the current date would be greatly diminished.

Too obscure?

Okay, how’s this: I don’t visit barbers often (sorry hair, but you’ve really failed me), but when I do, I never ask a hair stylist to show me a portfolio of their work on similar head/hair types… or testimonial letters from satisfied customers.

Don’t get me wrong, like most consumers, I enjoy the occasional referral – for new music, cars, accountants, hotels, real estate agents, restaurants and more. But I still want to make my own decisions, based entirely on my own experiences. I can’t even begin to calculate how many times I have enjoyed a movie or album or dinner or bottle of beer that someone else told me to avoid.

So here’s a thought. The next time you (the organization) decide to review an agency, or conversely you (the agency) decide to participate in an account review, postpone the traditional, formal presentation and conduct a meet and greet.

No agenda, no portfolio, no deck, no PowerPoint, no dog and pony show, no Q&A, no hyped-up artificial bullshit. Just introduce yourselves and talk about the weather and your favorite colors and your astrology signs and what you do in your spare time and your general philosophies about life and work. Talk about your favorite movies, your favorite music, your hobbies. Talk about your family and your pets and your house and your best ever vacation. Get to know each other. Take a quick tour of the factory or offices or cafeteria. And then, without ever asking or being asked about relevant industry experience, take 10 minutes to talk about the prospective client’s marketing challenges and kick around some preliminary, conceptual strategies.

You can call it a search for chemistry if you want. You can call it a new age voodoo agency review process. I call it common sense. Think about it. Any agency worth its weight in salt better be able to prepare a presentation that makes it look like the perfect fit for your organization. If it can’t, the agency is in the wrong business. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best agency for you. Leave your preconceived notions on the doorstep and spend an hour getting to know each other. And you may discover some unexpected surprise.

Do you know what Ray Kroc Did before turning McDonald’s into the world’s most successful burger chain? He was selling commercial multi-mixers. I guess it’s a good thing the McDonald brothers didn’t insist on a presentation about his experience making and serving burgers, fries and shakes.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.