Interesting take on the RFI/RFP process in which the tables are turned by Wexley School for Girls from Agency Spy.
full-service agency Wexley School for Girls is turning the RFI and RFP
process on its head, or, in their words, “reversing the traditional RFI
and RFP process in which brands look for agencies to handle their
advertising via a complex and costly rigmarole of vetting, chemistry
checks and basically pitting agencies against one another to compete for
an account.” Today the agency has issued the first-ever Reverse Request
for Information or RRFI, calling on brands to become the agency’s next
client, tapping New York search consultancy Madam to help in the
“We believe it’s as important for the agency to choose its next
clients as carefully and rigorously as a client chooses its next
agency,” reads the RRFI. “We are looking for a client that is
respectful, fun to be around and one that enjoys partnering with their
agency not dictating to them… We see ourselves as an asset not a vendor.
And we see clients as partners not clients,” the Wexley’s RRFI goes on.
Applicants are asked to define their brand and where they want to take
it in 2-3 years, what brands they admire, their marketing budget, their
true “risk tolerance” for creativity, their proudest moment, a
definition of their ideal relationship with an advertising agency, and
“Would you rather ride 1 horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?” —
you know, all the tough questions.
“Today’s more interactive and collaborative way of working
between agency and client makes it more critical than ever to get the
chemistry right,” explains Michael Lee,
founder of Madam. “The agency has to feel good about the relationship
beyond an annual fee. It has every right to only want to work
with clients it wants to work with. Wexley and Madam both believe there
is a better, more innovative, more creative approach to agency client
relationships, because the way both now work together demands it.”
Traditionally, a finalist in a creative review has had to beat just a couple of other shops to get the business. Recently, though, the odds of winning have gotten much longer.
The finalists that emerged in reviews for CVS, the Legacy anti-tobacco campaign and TripAdvisor faced four or five competitors. “That’s frustrating,” said a leader at one of six shops that pitched TripAdvisor, adding, “It’s hard to stay motivated.”
With as little as a 17 percent chance of winning, some may wonder why agencies in those reviews even bothered with the long and expensive pitch process. Then again, the market isn’t exactly awash with opportunities right now, and those three brands collectively spend about $200 million in media each year.
What’s making these shortlists so long? Agency leaders, search consultants and a marketing chief point to three factors: market conditions, the number of decision makers involved and when the brand last searched for a new agency.
First and foremost, it’s a buyer’s market. For agencies under pressure to grow, the prospects, again, are few. And if you’re a marketer, why not seek more ideas, even if it means a longer process? After all, the agencies foot the bill.
“The calculation is that the agency business is hurting, so they’ll get more participation,” explained Robert Birge, CMO at Kayak.com. “Clients often want to get a range of perspective,” added Ken Robinson of Ark Advisors in New York.
Of course, more ideas don’t necessarily yield better results, particularly with finalists working off the same brief. Meanwhile, a key goal of any review is to get a sense of what it’s like to work with an agency, which, naturally, is harder with a longer roster of finalists.
“I would imagine, for a client, it becomes very difficult to distinguish some of the agencies,” said Matt Weiss, CMO at Havas Worldwide.
Then, there’s the factor of how many decision makers. Generally, more “cooks” lead to more shops, as each marketing leader puts forth his or her individual preferences.
At TripAdvisor, for example, CMO Barbara Messing and vp of brand strategy Anne Bologna collectively have spent decades in advertising, and Bologna is a former agency exec. The point is, they know a lot of players, and in that context, a sextet of finalists doesn’t seem so outrageous.
Finally, those marketers that haven’t done a search in a while may want to meet with more shops to get a feel for the current environment.
Before hiring 72andSunny in February, Legacy had worked with Arnold for 13 years. Four other agencies pitched that business. Likewise, BBDO beat four other agencies to land CVS last month.
TripAdvisor appears headed to Johannes Leonardo, though a company rep said the search was still ongoing.
Whether the trend of longer shortlists will continue is debatable. What is clear is that as long as agencies outnumber marketers, marketers will have the leverage to ask for more.