Imagine a project where the client has asked 15, maybe 20, prospective vendors to pitch for the same scope of work. Scary isn’t it? I’m coming across such scenarios far too often for the phenomena to be an anomaly; it’s becoming a trend. But what’s wrong with that, I hear you ask. What’s wrong with asking a bunch of agencies to respond to your brief and then choosing the best solution? Well, it doesn’t work. At best it’s a time-consuming and mechanical process completely at odds with the purview of creativity. At worst, it reduces all ideas and solutions – good and bad – to the lowest common denominator: cost.

Let’s face it; this catch-all style of procurement is commercially driven. It pays little more than lip-service to technical and creative abilities, and yet involves countless creative hours and valuable resources. And ultimately the track record, delivery abilities, approach and creative talent of the agencies pitching are all largely overlooked.

There must be a better way, right? There is, and the good news is that it works for all kinds of creative projects: from event management and exhibition stands, to brand environments & interiors. The answer is simple: Search for a partner, not a vendor.

Start by investing a little time and researching a handful of agencies who meet the criteria of delivering a measurable and successful project. Next, give these agencies an opportunity to meet your team and present their credentials. Use these meetings to develop and fine-tune what you’re looking for and what you need from an agency – and conversely, what you don’t need or could do without. Then shortlist two, or at most three, agencies that meet your criteria – and ask them to participate in a well-managed RFP process. This way you’ll be able to compare commercial aspects and key deliverables against the backdrop of an inspirational big idea. More importantly, you’ll be able to choose wisely – without your judgement being clouded by countless different proposals.

So, how do you go about it? Well, prequalify as much as possible – even before you send out the RFP. Look at an agency’s stature, references, testimonials and professionalism. Ask about the size and quality of their creative and project management teams. Keep reminding yourself that you’re looking for a relevant fit to your specific needs – which may not necessarily be the largest agencies in town. Assess your prospective partners in terms of their people and specialisations.

And once you’ve found a great agency and experienced their worth on a couple of projects, why not consider awarding them preferred supplier status? They’re already a valuable extension to your marketing department – understanding your brand, your vision and your objectives. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved; maximising output and minimising costs. But there’s the human element too. You’ll get to know the crew at your agency, and they’ll get to know your people – the makings of a solid, close-knit team.


Adrian Bell

Co-founder and Executive Director