Simon Francis: what should consultancies offer to clients as they try to choose the right agency?

Unknown-8Simon Francis, CEO of integration consultancy Flock Associates, examines what different types of consultancies offer to clients as they try to select the right agency.. 

In these days of fiscal restraint why do clients use their hard-won marketing budgets to pay a consultant to help them source and select the right agency?

Surely, these clients are experienced marketers, and they often are supported by procurement professionals, so why use a consultant? Is the selection of agencies and management of them not a key part of the client’s job?

Our view at Flock is different from some ‘pitch consultants’ or ‘intermediaries’ who will spiritedly tell you that every pitch needs a consultant. We disagree.

If a client is experienced, has great procurement support or skills, and is just replacing a genuinely under-performing agency with another, then the chances are they will not need a pitch consultant.

However, many clients want to change. They may want to change more than just an agency. They may want to change their internal resources, structures, and ways of working. They know they need to change their agency ecosystem to keep pace of the changes required by data, social, mobile and content marketing. Often, they need an international solution. Sometimes, these changes cross ‘borders’ of responsibility that bring into play internal client politics.

In these situations of more complex change a client may lack one or all of three key factors, which will necessitate the use of a consultancy of some sort.

1. Time:

The first critical factor is time. Clients are busy people, they have things to sell and campaigns to develop. Managing a full pitch, or a series of interlinked pitches or reviews to change a whole ecosystem, takes a lot of time. In many instances clients turn to consultants to set up and run a pitch process, saving the client team a lot of the aforemetioned.

2. Skill:

The second critical factor a client may realise they lack is a particular skill. They may want specific knowledge of an agency sector, for example mobile, or social. Or they may not have worked with an agency holding company, and therefore just do not know how to get the best from their agency assets held in one holding company. Or, and this is most often the case with appointments, clients want to get all their agencies to work together and want specific proven expertise about client and agency integration.

3. Independence:

The third key factor is independence. A consultant is not marketing or procurement, and so can give independent advice to either or both. The consultant is not avowedly English or Italian or anything else, so in the case of international assignments or consolidations can give neutral independent advice, and set up fair democratic pitch processes.

While we are considering why clients use consultants, we should look at what different consultants offer. The decision to use a consultant should be based upon their skills and experience. Broadly you have the following types of consultant:

*Procurement consultant. Probably from a procurement background, has little first-hand experience of marketing or developing campaigns. May run a good tactical procurement process if the client has strong complementary marketing skills. Will probably not add strategic benefits or develop an integrated offering.

*Media auditor. As the name suggests, they will run a media pitch, and will benchmark your pricing for you. Often a media pitch can seem divorced from other parts of marketing, like digital and creative. And, certainly historically, the pitch processes that they have run have not built integrated agency systems Rather they have destroyed them by focussing media agencies on benchmarks that have little to do with sales and marketing, but everything to do with selling their own benchmarking methodology

*Pitch Consultant. There are variations on a theme here. You have some highly disreputable one-man bands, and some very good companies who specialise in pitches of many different sorts, and have great experience in running a good pitch. Their “value add” to a client is based upon the individual consultant employed

* Integration consultants who, I would argue, make the pitch process part of a drive towards better marketing structures and processes.

So there we have it. In summary, some clients do not need a consultancy to hold a pitch, others do, and those that do should choose their consultancy carefully.




One Comment

  1. But the big questions is….If an ‘integration consultant’ runs a pitch is he, in fact, a ‘pitch consultant’?

    My point being Simon, I don’t think anyone in this space considers themselves in such restrictive pigeon-holed definitions.

    All of the practices you have mentioned above could capably run very good or very bad pitches, its down largely to the skills, experience and integrity of the people involved.

    Check out the forthcoming ISBA / IPA “Good Pitch Week” in November for more.

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