Below are eight recommendations for clients looking for a creative agency that is not subject to public procurement law:
In many cases, the search for a new agency partner constitutes a decision for a long-standing collaboration. Accordingly, the entire process should be based on professionalism, integrity, transparency and mutual appreciation.
Clients should take the opportunity to better assess and get to know as many agencies as possible through a personal (free) screening appointment. At these appointments, which usually last one to two hours, the agencies can present their methodology, their references and also the people behind them. Experience shows that it makes sense to then reduce the number of participants in the pitch to the most promising candidates after the screening appointments. A maximum of four agencies is recommended here (if the budget holder is also invited). This ensures that there is sufficient time for dialogue between agencies and clients during the presentation phase and that both sides get to know each other better. In our experience, inviting more agencies does not produce better results. Transparently announcing the agencies participating in the pitch is also appreciated.
In addition to a written briefing, an opportunity for a personal re-briefing with the people responsible for the agency decision must be provided so that questions can be asked about the job. This gives the agencies a better understanding of the task and produces more satisfactory results. It also allows the client to familiarize themselves with the agency’s way of working and thinking and get to know the main people in charge. The process itself should be kept as lean as possible. The scope of the presentation (advertising material to be prepared) should make it easy to imagine how the idea will be implemented (folders ready for printing, for example, are of little use at this stage).
It is important to give at least a rough idea of the budget available at the briefing so that the agencies can develop a concept tailored to this budget. Also, discuss your wishes regarding the fee or fee model and the contents of an agency contract as early as possible (for example, at the screening appointment) or let the agency make a proposal (for example, as an agenda item at the re-briefing) so that in the event of a placement there are no differing expectations with regard to the fee. If agency fees are unexpectedly high or low, ask about it. It might be a misunderstanding, or perhaps it’s an opportunity to remove agencies from the pitch for this reason and replace them with others. Agencies that are too “cheap” are almost more dangerous than ones that are too “expensive”, because quality over a longer period of time is only possible by commanding appropriate fees.
Agencies should be given enough time to prepare the presentation (4 to 8 weeks between briefing and presentation, depending on project size). However, agencies should also be allotted sufficient time (at least 1 hour) for the presentation itself. A good idea can be told quickly, but the clients should also be able to clearly understand the arguments behind this idea, because this understanding is ultimately necessary for the qualitative assessment (which is why it makes sense to plan in some time for questions after the presentation). Agencies should decide how best to use this time and who shall present. This also allows clients to get to know the different agency cultures and better assess which agency is the best fit for them. Levelling agencies too much at the formal level in terms of better comparability sounds tempting, but is ultimately counterproductive.
Communicate to the agencies how decision-making is planned. Where a panel will assess the pitches, its members should be involved in the entire process if possible (screening, briefing, re-briefing, presentation). Smaller panels staffed by members who also end up working with the agency have proven their worth. Since only agencies that meet all of the basic criteria (references, team spirit/key personnel, etc.) are invited to pitch, the quality of ideas should be weighted most heavily in the assessment. The fee or price should account for no more than 30% of the assessment (good quality often saves more money than haggling over an agency fee). In the interest of transparency, agencies that did not make the cut should be given the opportunity to find out why in a de-briefing.
A serious pitch costs an agency between 30,000 and 100,000 euros (if several employees work for several weeks, this often adds up to hundreds of hours, or even over a thousand for larger pitches. In addition, there are third-party costs for layout ads, illustrations, stock images, etc.). Therefore, agencies that gave a full presentation but do not get to bid should receive some compensation as a token of appreciation. The amount depends on the size of the budget to be allocated and the effort involved in the presentation. A minimum of between 2% (for larger) and 3% (for smaller) of the expected annual agency fee is recommended. If the expected annual agency fee is less than 100,000 euros, the effort and costs of a large pitch are out of proportion to the order volume. Then consider reducing the scope of services accordingly or starting a test project with the best-ranked agency from the screening appointments. All rights to the ideas presented and works remain the property of the agencies even with payment of compensation.
Where not all important general conditions (confidentiality, deadlines, compensation, assessment, etc.) are set out in the briefing, agree on them again in writing in a short pitch agreement.