Why Establishing Agency Search Consultant Relationships is Important & How to Get Started

June 26, 2019

For agency executives, getting in front of and building strategic relationships with agency search consultants is the holy grail of new business. Working directly with marketers to find new agencies, search consultants always have their ear to the ground. They know about brands that are on the verge of a review, what CMOs are really seeking out of their agency partners, and how your agency can make or break a pitch.

Since search consultants are so close to marketing decision-makers and the agency pitch process, they’re definitely people to have in your networking corner! Long time search consultant and President of AAR Partners, Lisa Colantuono, recently shared her inside perspective on how agencies can establish a relationship with search consultants, and more importantly, how to ensure your business stays top of mind as new reviews come across their desks.

The Benefits of Knowing an Agency Search Consultant 

While agency search consultants work directly with marketers to help them find the best agency for their brand’s needs, they typically can offer assistance to agencies in a variety of ways:  

1. Consulting Services

Many agency search consultants offer consulting services or programs that aim at assisting agencies with their growth plans. These services and programs can offer a variety of benefits including:

    1. An outsiders opinion on your agency’s capabilities presentation 
    2. Tips on how to improve your pitch process
    3. Insights on how to apply a more proactive approach to your new business strategy

To get a better idea about what some of these services could include, check out AAR Partner’s Premium Agency Membership. Most benefits go far beyond being considered during reviews but rather helps identify strategic areas of growth for your agency.

2. Industry Expertise 

Search consultants understand the agency review process like the back of their hands. They really understand what CMOs are seeking in their agency partnerships and what problems are keeping them up at night. The agencies who have an established relationship with search consultants can benefit from learning how to see through the eyes of a marketer and what characteristics might make or break a potential partnership.

Lisa explains some of the benefits her agency finalists received while she managed a financial review saying, “I called each of the finalists and had a confidential conversation with each of them specifically about what would break down the relationship or set it up for success. I was crystal clear in regard to what the client did and did not want. The finalists soaked up those tips and applied them to their pitch process and to the idea of stewarding that client’s account.”

Keeping Your Agency Top of Mind Amid An Agency Review 

As Lisa puts it, “The stronger your relationship is with your search consultant, the more likely you are to stay top of mind for potential opportunities.” Of course, building a relationship means so much more than emailing the search consultant asking to be included in their reviews. Here are some ways Lisa encourages you to genuinely build and nurture a relationship with a search consultant: 

1. Break Bread

At the end of the day, search consultants are humans and humans love free food! All jokes aside, making that face-to-face connection with a search consultant really goes a long way. It gives them the opportunity to know you on a personal level which helps them later when deciding which agencies would be a good cultural fit for certain brand opportunities.  

Keep in mind, asking them to lunch is a nice gesture, but a one and done meeting won’t establish a relationship. Like building any relationship in life, it takes time, patience, sharing of information, being transparent about all issues, and multiple touch-points. 

As Lisa explains, “When I know an agency is filled with great people I feel much more comfortable recommending them to my clients.”

2.  Keep Them Posted

Keeping a search consultant posted does not mean emailing them every six months to see if they are working on a review that they might be able to participate in. It also doesn’t mean reaching out once in a blue moon.

Lisa explains, “Many agencies reach out, update me, and then I don’t hear from them again for another 12-18 months. This makes it difficult to remember their offering, their reason for being and while they might be in my agency database, the mental database only has so much capacity.” 

Wondering what validates reaching out? Keep them updated on things like:

  • Your agencies capabilities
  • Awards you’ve won
  • New clients you’ve taken on
  • Client’s you’ve lost (now you’re open and experienced in that category)
  • Updated growth plans 
  • New case studies 

Keep in mind that your updates shouldn’t take more than three minutes of a search consultants time. Lisa emphasizes, “There is value in agencies who present their capabilities with clarity, identify their purpose and highlight their proof points.” 

Brand marketers rely on search consultants for the “inside scoop” on potential agency partners, so agencies who are able to effectively position themselves likely have a better chance to win future opportunities. 

3.  Pass Referrals 

When we asked Lisa about referrals she simply stated, “Help me help you.” If you or your executive team hears about potential reviews and the opportunity is not right for you or a “sister shop,” then recommend a few search consultants to help the brand. Not only does this help the brand, but it helps nurture your relationship with search consultants.  

4. Ask How You Can Help 

As with any relationship, it’s a two-way street. While your end goal is to be considered for more reviews and eventually win more new business, search consultants are growing their business and their network as well. Ask them where you can help them out as well! 

Lisa explained, “While it is likely the search consultant will not ask for anything in return, it is so rare that we hear this question from agencies- this question (sincerely stated) in itself will make you stand out.” It’s this rare question that instantly shows “partnership” and the realization that a mutually beneficial relationship is a successful relationship.

Finally, Lisa leaves agencies with this final piece of advice. She explains, “Don’t reach out to search consultants for the very first time when a review starts and the floodgates open. Instead, build a relationship over time. Stay in touch. Remind the consultant of who you are, “why you” and what you do. And most importantly, be patient and keep in mind that there is only one of them and thousands of agencies.” 

The Fine Print: Agency Search Consultants Cannot Guarantee More Pitch Opportunities 

While this article can absolutely help inform agencies on why it’s important to build relationships with search consultants, and how to get started doing so it’s important to realize that there’s no guarantee. 

As Lisa puts it, “Just because you are dating someone doesn’t mean you are going to marry them.” Just because you are close with a search consultant does not mean your agency will be invited to participate in every review (or any review).  

A search consultant cannot guarantee a pitch opportunity for any agency. It all depends on the client’s criteria. The purpose of a search consultant is to consider qualified agencies on multiple levels; not force-fit a round peg in a square hole. Their end goal is to make sure the agency and client match on a resource level, an experience level and most importantly, a cultural level. 

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