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February 25, 2015
Are the Agency Search Consultants' Days Numbered?
 
Ah, yes — agency search consultants. What a delightful bunch. We remember our first run-in with them when we started our professional career as an assistant marketing manager charged by the agency's leadership to put the agency in multiple agency search directories and to set up meetings with the big consultants with the agency leadership.

Yes, we were thrown to the wolves, but we were OK with that, and enjoyed the challenge.

And a challenge it was.

The agency we started out in wasn't necessarily extremely small; a 25-person shop with a bankroll of nearly $7 million dollars. It was significantly bigger than many of these now "boutique" shops. The one interaction we will never forget was the time when we submitted an application to Select Resources International (SRI), one of the big dogs in agency search consultants.

If you remember 2008, SRI was the hottest agency search consultant around. They were picking up every huge AOR review.

So we thought, let's give it a shot.

And a shot it was.

First, to their credit, they answered us. One hurdle down, in our book. But then we discussed the agency's size and capabilities, and for as big as the shop was, SRI was not at all impressed. After the friendly chit-chat, the call was very quick. They were looking for home runs, not a game.

And we quickly learned that though SRI was the biggest dog in the pound, the other agency search consultants were also looking to be the leader of the pack.

Now fast forward to today. Are agency search consultants still needed?

As industry consolidation continues to gain speed, and with the newest addition of the "in-house agencies," how effective and necessary can this wonderful group of people be?

We're not exactly sure that we know the answer. On one hand, due to the proliferation of digital tools and networks, two to five people can be an effective "agency," and with the barriers of entry so low, the number of players in AdLand has exploded. On the other hand, these agency consultants aren't working for the small to mid-size businesses; they are working for the FORTUNE companies, and those companies work mostly with the shops tied to the holding companies. So essentially a business can itself approach a holding company, share its interest, and the holder can display the outrageously huge portfolio of agencies at its beck and call — a move coveted by agency search consultants.

Naturally, these consultants work for the big guns, because that shares a positive relationship to big commissions. It makes sense.

But unless these guys broaden their customer base, or are bought by said holding companies (call them "in-house HR agencies," or "chiefs of staff"), one can only think that their welcome days in AdLand are numbered.

Thoughts?

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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