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July 16, 2003
Sure-Fire Ways to Fire Up Your Agency Before You Decide to Fire Them

Helping clients select and manage their resources for optimum ROI is what we are all about. And while we enjoy a reputation as one of the country's leading search consultancies, few companies realize that a good part of our work is focused on helping clients revitalize and enhance their existing client/agency relationships.

The fact is: client/agency relationships are a lot like marriages. They take work in order to be successful. And they run into trouble when clients and agencies -- just like couples -- fail to effectively communicate what they want and need from each other. We'd like to suggest some sure-fire ways to rekindle the flame with your current agency before you decide to shop for a new one. These will work if you go about it in a constructive way:

1. Initiate an exchange of performance evaluations. This is the quickest way to get a handle on your relationship. Your agency always wants to know where it stands and how it can get better. Your marketing team will benefit from gaining a better understanding of what it might be doing that is inhibiting your agency from producing its best work on your behalf.

2. Ask for a presentation of work for your agency's other clients. You may not have considered this, but you compete with your agency's other clients for your agency's top talent, their share of mind and share of time. If your agency isn't producing very smart work for its other clients, you've probably got the wrong agency. By inviting your agency to present samples of its best strategic thinking and work on behalf of its other clients your agency will welcome an unanticipated opportunity to showcase its otherwise unrecognized expertise, talent and success stories. Moreover, chances are it will also lead to new ideas you may want to pursue.

3. Stage a 1-2 day offsite. Invite your agency's best thinking on core business issues or new ways to grow your business. Divide everyone into competing teams that mix client/agency people. Dedicate each team to developing solutions to problems and then formulate plans for implementation. Allocate some social time so that you can learn a little more about each other on a personal level.

4. Stimulate agency experimentation that will lead to breaking the paradigm. For example, if TV advertising is a significant part of your budget, take a risk and allocate a percentage of your agency's annual TV budget for experimental purposes. Dedicate this money to exploring new approaches and ideas. Agency creatives spark to this kind of challenge. You might be pleasantly surprised at what turns up.

5. Ask for one new business building idea per quarter. In today's downsized and cost-conscious agency environment, waiting for your agency to take the initiative often fosters disappointment. By establishing this as an ongoing requirement, you formalize your agency's need to take a more active role in leading the business.

6. Set higher standards for the creative work your agency presents. Meet to focus exclusively on this subject. Identify what you feel is exceptionally effective creative in your industry or in general, for that matter. Discuss what you particularly like about this work and how it might be adaptable to your business. Brainstorm new approaches to explore. Set a date to look at concepts. Flesh out and test the promising ones.

Don't be afraid to tell your agency to start over. You know they can do better. Insist they bring you only A+ work; work they are really proud of and that they are confident will break through the clutter.

By encouraging your agency to raise the bar on its creative submissions you reinforce your interest in upgrading the quality of your creative and challenge both of you to re-think this important subject.

7. Ask your agency to re-pitch your business. Why? Because you are interested in having them step back and take a fresh look at the business, and where you are most vulnerable to competitive inroads.

8. Renegotiate your agency fee to incorporate incentive compensation. See if you can establish achievable, measurable goals that link your agency's compensation to your marketplace success. Allocate a significant bonus in return for achieving these goals. This ensures you get that daily call inquiring, "how's business? Is there anything else we can do?" The chief benefit is that your account's financial success is irrevocably wedded to your success in the marketplace.

9. Call 1-800 Flowers. By this I mean change your pattern of simply taking your agency for granted. Look for tangible ways to demonstrate your appreciation for exceptional thinking, work and service. When was the last time you did something unexpected and nice for your agency? It doesn't take much. A simple note of "thanks for a job well done" can serve as powerful motivation to work smarter and harder on your behalf.

In our experience, any one of the aforementioned approaches has served to get an agency's immediate attention and quite often has been effective in turning a negative situation around.

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As president and CEO of Select Resources International, Catherine Bension leads the first-rate consulting firm that always seems to excel at helping advertisers and agencies build successful relationships. Catherine holds an MBA from UCLA and has held client-side positions at large Hollywood studios and global ad agencies.
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