RPM Advertising

Playing The Agency Field

by Jennifer Wiza

PROJECTThere’s been a lot of press lately about big brands moving toward project-based work with “smaller” agencies. While brands aren’t necessarily leaving their lead shops, they are starting to enjoy the idea of playing the field when it comes to agency relationships. And project work is a great way to test the waters, whether it’s discovering new teams with innovative ideas, taking advantage of organizations that can move more quickly to tackle business opportunities, or injecting new energy into existing brands.

Logically, there are several benefits of looking outside an Agency of Record (AOR) relationship, particularly when an AOR is a large, complex organization that doesn’t move very quickly to rally around a special project, new product/service, or you simply like the idea of trying something new. Working with a new agency on a project basis can offer a more nimble team structure, lower costs, and the ability to ramp up quickly. Engaging an agency in project work also enables a brand to diversify its reliance upon a single partner, which may lack the breadth of expertise needed in a world where the explosion of online channels creates an ever-increasing appetite for more content and new ideas.

So how do you choose the best agency for a project assignment?

While best practices for conducting an agency search for an Agency of Record are well documented, the very nature of project work – and its benefits – is supposed to eliminate much of the pains inherent in the agency search process, which requires long lead times and lots of resources. The ANA and 4As recognized the increased interest in project work and recently published a white paper to help guide clients, Agency Reviews for Project Work Guidance Considerations. The whitepaper provides both clients and agencies with considerations to help optimize the review process. Here are just a few:

  • Clients should think about agency selection. In the case of a project-based relationship, clients may choose not to conduct a formal review—not all projects benefit from one
  • Clients should be transparent with the project budget and the future opportunity
  • Exclusivity/conflict parameters, if any, should be abbreviated and tightly defined
  • For short-term projects, clients should not require or suggest that agencies submit spec work

To (mis)quote Mark Twain: Reports of the death of the AOR relationship have been greatly exaggerated. There are significant client benefits to a long-term, embedded agency relationship. That said, projects can offer a low-risk, high-reward approach for clients seeking new ideas, a different way of thinking, and fresh talent.