Finding the right agency was simpler in a pre-digital world. PR was, simply, PR. With more choices, finding agencies that match needs is a challenge. Agency search consultants and technology streamline the search process to improve outcomes. What do they do?
In this post and a new article for CommPRO “PR Agency Search Consultants: Why Use An Agency Search Consultant? A Primer”, Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch™, and co-authors Steven Drake and Robert Udowitz, Principals of RFP Associates, highlight ways in which agency search consultants work with companies to find the best agencies for their needs.
While we highlight the value of technology in finding or engaging PR and communications-related agencies in areas such as internal communications, digital marketing or SEO, technology can only take companies so far in the search process. Vetting agencies for organizational fit through meetings and conversations continues to be a critical component of the search process.
Given the pressures on business, corporate communications and marketing leaders’ time, managing the burden of an agency search can serve as a barrier to hiring agencies, or lead to shortcuts that may not be ideal but provide the quickest on-ramp to agency selection.
As we argue, this is where agency search consultants can play a key role in helping companies find the best agency by helping to manage the search process. And this is why CommunicationsMatch and RFP Associates partnered to provide consulting support – to help companies in their search process.
Although widely used in advertising, search consultants in PR and communications – and how their role has evolved along with the industry – isn’t well understood.
In this primer, we highlight what search consultants do and how to work with them:
Search consultants help companies identify and shortlist agencies, manage the entire search process or provide consulting support to help companies at various steps on the path to engaging an agency-of-record or for a specific project.
Working closely with the hiring entity, consultants provide strategic insight and draft materials. These may include RFPs, timelines, and a measures of success document to guide the search. See our “A Client’s Guide to PR and Communications Agency Search”.
Using agency search tools such as CommunicationsMatch, databases, or relationships to draw up a shortlist for a client is one key step in the process. But, the greatest time saving for a company, and potential value generated, is when consultants are used to manage the search process to engage with candidate agencies to ensure they are both qualified and not conflicted for an assignment, and then to manage the RFP process.
Limited bandwidth for managing an agency search is one reason for engaging search consultants. Most also recognize the value of having experts in agency search manage the process and advise on agency selection.
Business or communications leaders seek out search consultants as strategic advisors who, based on their experience, can advise on the types of communications resources that may be the best fit for a company and how to integrate these resources into communications or marketing departments.
A common theme from communications executives who engage search consultants is the recognition of the importance of getting an agency search right – one of the most importance decisions they make.
Given the various roles search consultants can play, companies need to think about where they provide the greatest ROI in the search process based on their needs and capacity.
It’s important to add an additional reason for hiring an agency – confidentiality. Using a search consultant is one way to maintain client anonymity for confidential assignments.
Watch our Agency Search Series Video on Why Use Agency Search Consultants:
Although a company may hire a consultant to conduct a turn-key search, the key to success of any search process is client engagement. Business or communications leaders need to be engaged at every step of the process in the same way they would work with an executive search firm when hiring an employee. The best way to think about the process is as a partnership. A consultant will reduce the workload but the company still drives the process.
Fees for agency searches are directly related to the size and scope of a project. Being clear about expectations and deliverables is a key part of the engagement process. Turn-key searches may well take a number of months to complete and will likely cost a small portion of the first-year agency fees. The benefits for the company are significant time savings and better search results which are likely to pay dividends.
If the consultant will be engaged for part of the process -- say, identifying a shortlist of agencies or advising on the selection at the finalist stage of a search process -- the price tag is likely to be modest. It is important to recognize that the value delivered may be multiples of the consulting fees involved, simply because of the quality of the work that agency is able to do.
When it comes to ensuring the process delivers on its promise, a search consultant must be an honest broker with no ties to specific agencies. Consultants should only be compensated by the company looking for an agency. Any other form of compensation between an agency and search consultant may create significant conflicts of interest.
About the Authors
Locke developed and launched CommunicationsMatch, an agency search and engagement platform with 5,000 listed firms and professionals in 12 countries, to help companies find and engage agencies, consultants and freelancers that match needs. A founder of communications agencies and startups, he previously headed communications functions at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank.
Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz founded RFP Associates in 2011 after observing the agency selection process from “both sides of the aisle” and recognizing the need to streamline and improve the way searches are made and agencies selected from an honest, unbiased approach. Over the course of their careers Robert and Steve have worked at agencies, corporations, and trade associations in New York, Washington, and, for Steve, in Beijing, China, where he opened Fleishman-Hillard's first Asian office. In recent years they have also been sole practitioners for a variety of clients seeking media, crisis, and strategic counsel.