Tips for Changing Your Agency

David Lazarenko

This may seem like a strange subject to explore for an agency whose clients may be reading this, but it is a crucial topic that most clients (and agencies) will need to address at some point in their lives.

Let’s start with the reason why many clients choose to look for a new agency. I say “reason” as there are many articles and studies that provide lists of the top “reasons”, but ultimately it all starts and ends with change.

Plain and simple, clients look for new agencies because they desire change — change in performance (for the better), change of ideas (for newer and fresher), change of approach (for progressive and proactive) or change of people (for eager and nimble).

In my experience, once this desire for change reaches its peak, a client will become intentional and begin the search for new and better. In many cases, the process starts with the development and distribution of an RFP. This is also where things go off the rails.

The RFP itself is not the problem; it's the thinking that goes into the RFP. Why? When preparing an RFP, the client usually starts with a list of requirements based on their existing marketing and advertising efforts. This list of requirements is intended to narrow down the potential candidates to those who “fit the bill.” For example, a recent RFP we received contained the following requirements:

  • Experience with national clients
  • Experience in key markets including: Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver
  • National media planning and buying capabilities
  • Proficiencies in English and French
  • Integrated service offering
At first glance, this may seem like a reasonable list of requirements. But, here’s the problem: By setting these requirements, the client has unintentionally put boundaries on the change they can achieve. Most significantly, only agencies similar to the current agency/approach need apply.

Unfortunately, the old saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck… then it probably is a duck,” does apply here. If you set requirements (like those above) that favor a specific agency type (in this case a national, integrated, media agency), then you are most likely going to end up with exactly that. This brings about the major issue: While they may profess the contrary, most agencies of a specific type think, act and approach marketing the same way.

So, how much change are you really going to achieve by switching to a new agency that thinks, acts and approaches marketing the same way as your current agency does?

What we posit is that, for true change, a client must not set expectations based on existing structure, approach or agency type, but on desired success and outcomes. This removes the boundaries and allows for a much broader mix of prospects — from all walks of agency life — that will no doubt approach things very differently. You best believe the digitally native agency will think differently than the experiential firm, which will be different again from the national, integrated shop. By allowing for a broad mix of agency types, the client is now able to explore many highly differentiated offerings, opening their eyes and minds to approaches they may not have ever considered (which was the goal to begin with).

In his Working Wisdom series, David Lazarenko shares insights and inspiration gathered throughout his 15-year agency career. Through real-life examples and an analysis of industry trends, he offers up practical advice and actionable strategies for marketers.


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