AdNation News: What Avi Dan, Author of the Forbes' Blog, "The Insider," Recommends When Choosing an Ad Agency

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Avi Dan, a veteran of 30 years on the agency side, discusses a few tips in selecting an ad agency in 2013.

Dan believes that the relationship between marketers and agencies is shifting...'It has changed more because agencies have become more like vendors and less like partners. They are less proactive now.'

How does a marketer choose the right agency to drive home its message, and spark people's imaginations? This is a complicated hurdle companies have faced for as long as there have been marketers and agencies. But according to Dan -- a veteran of 30 years on the agency side -- it doesn't need to be complicated. How companies choose a creative agency to work with can be done simpler and more economically.


"Most marketers don't understand how the agency itself works," says Dan. In some cases, such as with Kmart, he says the procurement department guides the process of agency review. "In my opinion , that's a big mistake," he says, because procurement specialists are skilled in negotiating, not in making subjective, creative decisions. In other cases, the marketers themselves handle the review and the process becomes more like a "beauty pageant." A third option is to hire an outside search consultant, who may also not be very good at weighing creative options. "They are basically process managers, and they don't understand the quality of the agency."

A better option, he says, is to conduct "workshops" where the marketer facilitates workshops with each contender to evaluate how they develop strategy and creative work, how they think, and work under pressure. "Unlike the traditional pitch process, this approach mirrors exactly how marketers and agencies work in real life, and depicts a much more unvarnished view of the contending agencies, their strengths and weaknesses" In the three or four days in which a workshop will be done, the marketer "gets a good look under the hood."


Relationships, which used to last 15 or 20 years now break down in less than three years, on average, he says. Dan believes that the relationship between marketers and agencies is shifting, but not for the obvious reason that technology is advancing. "It has changed more because agencies have become more like vendors and less like partners. They are less proactive now." He says that with the continuing rough economic climate, "Clients are more stretched now. Clients I see are very cautious now about the economy, and as a result, he says, there may be "somewhat of a fraying of the relationships." As for technology, Dan says there’s a concern among clients that agencies aren't up to speed on technology.

Another important factor in this is that agency fees are declining. Dan continues, "Procurement departments started getting involved 10 years ago, putting pressure on agencies to keep costs down, and pressure on the size of marketing budget. Procurement impacts the relationships in a major way." He says the size of the company isn't important when it comes to this aspect. "That’s the job they were given -- to create savings. And the marketing budget is the biggest item, or the second biggest item," he says.

It comes down to talent, he says. Beyond the basic account, strategy and creative people who manage an account, the marketer is hiring talented individuals. "You hire people. It's the people you are hiring who will work closely with you -- that's where workshops come into play."

Dan, whose firm consults in agency searches, says many consultants do not manage the selection process efficiently. "There's a big difference in how I run those pitches compared to other consultants. Most consultants start with 10-12 agencies. But if you're a good consultant, if you describe to me exactly what you need, I know the market, and I'll come up immediately with the four or five agencies that will be right." There is a lot of waste in the process as it stands today. "It takes so long, and they aren't paying as much attention to their own business. You can do it in five weeks."


The trick, he says, is keeping it simple. "The key is putting together a relatively small selection committee, and have them be able to work with the agencies for that time. Keep the number of clients that get a chance for input to a minimum. " Dan adds, a marketer can also do some good for themselves by knowing the qualities they are looking for when hiring talent, and by "hiring for all screens" -- looking beyond the old TV -print model, and using the workshop review to reveal how an agency will use social and digital tools to succeed.

-Rob Garver
Reporter, AdNation News

About Avi Dan
Avi Dan is the founder of Avidan Strategies, a marketing consulting firm based in Forest Hills, New York. Its website states that he specializes in business and marketing advice, agency search, compensation, and advertising strategy. He spent 30 years in senior account management and business development positions with leading global agencies.

About AdNation News
AdNation News is an advertising news and intelligence resource for media sellers, marketers and agencies. Major news media companies and blue-chip marketers rely on AdNation News to help them drive new business. For more information, visit

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