Can You Predict When a Client Will Start the Search for a New Agency? [Interview]

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Peter Levitan
Peter Levitan




The new business Holy Grail for advertising, digital, PR, and social media agencies is getting a direct call from an interested client who is ready to start working. Agencies hope they will be contacted ahead of competitive agencies based on a combination of their reputation and inbound marketing programs. However, an agency cannot simply hope that they will get calls from interested clients. Being more proactive and direct with their marketing is also essential. Outbound needs to support inbound.

This is especially true when you have specific clients or categories you want to reach. 

Another Holy Grail (can there be more than one?) is being able to predict when a client is unhappy with their current agency and is getting ready to begin the search process. This is a tough one, so I searched to see if there was any existing advice on being able to predict when a client is about to search for a new agency. My quest led me to Access Confidential

Access Confidential is an online new business tool from AAR Partners, a leading agency search consultancy with a histroy of conducting more than 1,500 searches. Access Confidential includes an up-to-date client database, business news, and a research hotline, and it is used to forecast when clients will look for a new agency.

As a business development director, agency owner, and consultant, I’ve worked with AAR, and a partner at the firm, Lisa Colantuono, even  contributed to my book on pitching. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical about the idea of “predicting” when a client is getting ready to run a search, so I asked Lisa to give me some insights into their system.

You claim that Access Confidential’s Review Indicator can predict accounts that will be on the move. Do you have any examples of success?

Microsoft was ranked “very high” on the Review Indicator report about four months prior to its marketers calling a review. The same applied for Luxotica and Western Union and their reviews. A number of our Access Confidential subscribers claim that the higher the score on the Review Indicator Report, the more success they have when scheduling a meeting with company executives. However, we do not assign a score on a scale of 1 to 10 indicating level of potential review. When we created this report, marketers were insistent that we don't do such a thing since all that does is cause a “gold rush.” If a company gets a “10”, it creates the perception that the company is up for grabs. Agencies then start ambulance-chasing, which every seasoned new business executive knows does not work! The report was created to show movement on a 30-day basis and indicate where agencies should focus and build relationships -- not beat down doors.

How does the Review Indicator work? What secrets can you share?

The Review Indicator report was developed by search consultants with the help of marketers and new business executives. There are 17 key variables identified that impact client-agency relationships. These variables are the foundation of a proprietary algorithm that strips out the qualitative and is based solely on the quantitative. Based on years of managing reviews and speaking with marketers, these key 17 variables are weighted and assigned multipliers to add science behind the predictions.

What do you see as the most telling indicators that a client isn’t happy with her current agency roster?

There are many “rational” indicators that affect the relationship but the one “emotional” indicator that consistently bubbles to the top when a client isn’t happy with the current agency is complacency. The agency becomes complacent in many forms. Strategic thinking isn’t strong or innovative, creative isn’t ground-breaking or anchored in strategy, or there is lack of proactive behavior on the agency side.

Do you think will we see more client movement in 2015?

Over the past 5-plus years, there has been an average of 650 major client reviews per year (account of $1 million+ according to the 4A’s) with approximately 25% being managed by search consultants. I predict that these numbers will be similar in 2015.

What do you think is the biggest or fastest-growing client need as we move into 2015?

Innovation with an eye toward creating purposed-based brands.

Successful agencies will help identify emotional values in their client’s brands and use them for real-time engagement and meaningful positioning. Consumers are going to continue to have influence over brands. Agencies that help marketers to embrace it will succeed. You can boil this down to the need to turn big data (and the overwhelming amount of data) into core brand insights for marketers, which will remain as an asset. Analytics and programmatic and real-time buying, as well as social command centers to keep an ear to the ground on what’s trending, are all important tools to offer a client. But the greatest tool will be the interpretation of the data.


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