It would be fun to report that what advertising industry search consultants want from agencies fits in a stocking or comes with a bow. But that’s not the case. Understanding what’s really on their wish list can make for a festive — and even productive — exchange.
Understanding of Their Role in the Industry
Search consultants help client companies source the best agencies to augment their internal marketing capability and achieve their business goals. They work to bring top management, marketing teams, procurement personnel, and other stakeholders into a consensus-based view regarding the agency selection process, the available choices in market, and the optimal contractual terms to engage these resources.
Agencies need to understand that industry search consultancies differ by business model, type of expertise, search methodology, and services offerings. They are alike in that they monitor ad industry developments as they continuously assess hundreds of agencies in market, but that is it.
The Gift of Clarity
As search consultants survey the broader market for the best agency candidates, they value the agencies that demonstrate clarity — a clear understanding of what they do, why they do it, and for whom, as well as what makes their agency best of class at doing it.
Clarity requires agencies:
Position with purpose.
Support capability claims with credible proof points.
Communicate with confidence and creativity.
Agencies that get attention have clear positioning strategies, which can be based on category or channel specialization, communication discipline, or target expertise. Some agencies go to market based on collective competencies, strategic alliances, or by showcasing their proprietary data, innovative digital products, and consultative services.
Successful agencies further differentiate themselves by highlighting their inspired culture, core values, and brand personality, adding colorful points of differentiate — like the sprinkles on a holiday cookie.
Proof points for positioning and capability claims are important to clients and consultants. This can include executive-level client references, sustained integrated campaign effectiveness, and for some, industry awards for marketing effectiveness.
The work? Creative work can be an interesting calling card, or it can be viewed as an attractive “ugly” Christmas sweater. Clients assume the core competency of being able to produce great creative work exists in most agencies, and a showcase of work can be difficult for them to assess out of context. Information about the agency’s media planning processes or operational systems that enable executional efficiency are more relevant proof points of the agency’s value proposition.
Agencies without a clear position and supporting proof points are overlooked or underappreciated by search consultants and brands. Their new business outreach with search consultants is unproductive, as well. Consultants are more likely to give consideration to those agencies that compete based on what they are most capable and accomplished at doing.
Surprises That Sparkle
Search consultants track, learn about, and categorize agencies in a number of ways. And to them, quality information is a tasty box of dark chocolates.
Here’s what you need to monitor:
A social media presence with substantive content that aligns with the agency positioning is a key to gaining visibility among strategic targets.
Agency websites that provide factual information clients seek to aid the vetting process are impressive; those that build the case for agency expertise have highest value.
Updated agency profiles with industry databases, affiliate groups, and leading consultancies are easy requirements. Current online portfolios should highlight recent and best work and should be presented with client testimonials.
Inbound promotional emails that build credibility with personalized messaging will generate greater agency awareness and trigger consultant engagement.
Relevant, newsworthy agency research presented with interpretative thinking is welcomed brain food.
Quarterly communication with most consultancies is recommended.
Webinars, publications, and co-sponsored events are quality strategies to advance the consultant’s understanding of the agency.
If an agency invest time and resources into monitoring and updating these elements, it has the opportunity to leap-frog past an informational exchange into real-time engagement when a consultant contacts it to execute an NDA, complete an RFP, or suggest a meeting.
The Stop to Stale Promotions
Agency search consultants are inundated with mediocre information. Mass-produced agency promotional materials can be as stale as a holiday fruitcake.
Agency engagement in social media that consists of re-posted content that has nothing to do with their expertise only adds to the noise. Overreaching claims, chameleon-like offerings, and the promise of agency performance “if given the chance” all muddy the waters.
In addition, frequent turnover of new business personnel short-circuits agency marketing programs and undermines the fledgling relationships with search consultants.
Remember: The search consultancy business model is not driven by the flow of candidate agencies looking for new business opportunities. Instead, our business is driven by a specific client need.
Time is an investment to be protected. Unsolicited agency requests for a consultant’s feedback on agency material and even introductory meetings are not how consultants prioritize their time and resources.
Craft thoughtful outreach to gain the attention and time of a search consultant.
Networking, Referrals, and Reputation Boosters
Transitioning from an online connection to offline relationships with consultants (or prospects) requires high-value development strategies. Like most networking and business development, this is not a quick hit. This strategy takes planning, discipline, and creativity. Agencies with more limited resources might focus on a select number of search consultants that specialize in a vertical industry, geographic region, or media discipline that aligns with the agency position and strategy for growth.
Reciprocity is essential to successful business relationships. When professionals connect and create value for another, it not only differentiates the experience but creates relevancy as well. Knowing what one can contribute to the benefit of another sets the stage for a quality exchange with a search consultant.
Do some homework. Design the agency communication with consultants in mind. Align these materials with how the consultant approaches reviews.
Position the agency as a resource. Provide commentary on the industry and trend data to consultants to make yourself invaluable.
Choose the right venue for networking. Find out the industry events the consultant is attending, join in the discussion, and prepare for an in-person introduction.
Give the gift of positive endorsement to cement business ties. If you have a positive experience with a consultancy, then send a thank-you note, endorse, recommend, or follow her on social media.
The ultimate goal with any exchange is to create a positive experience that reflects well upon the agency. This will set the stage for new business opportunities in the coming year.
Give the gifts of generosity, optimism, and service. Elevate the advertising industry with each encounter you have with colleagues, clients, prospects, and search consultants.
Originally published Dec 2, 2014 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017