Why we should welcome the man on the phone

I used to know this bloke called Paul Phillips. He had one of the toughest jobs in London. He used to work for an organisation called AAR. In fact, as far as I know, he still does. AAR is dedicated to helping clients find new agencies. Actually, it’s not a bad little business model. Agencies pay you an annual fee, and in return you put them on pitch lists, assuming you’re right for the client.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  May 28, 2006

|~||~||~|I used to know this bloke called Paul Phillips. He had one of the toughest jobs in London. He used to work for an organisation called AAR. In fact, as far as I know, he still does. AAR is dedicated to helping clients find new agencies. Actually, it’s not a bad little business model. Agencies pay you an annual fee, and in return you put them on pitch lists, assuming you’re right for the client. In theory it means that the client gets access to the professionals, and if they’re a little naive about the wiles of agencies — be they media, creative or PR — then this match making organisation can help smooth the process. It’s no surprise that the Middle East is one of the last markets in the world to take to the idea of matchmaking companies. This is, after all, an environment that still thrives on personal relationships. Why pay a company to find an agency when one of your friends will probably be very grateful for the business., and they will probably show their gratitude to you in financial ways too. So congratulations to Emaar for being among the first to attempt to put the pitching process on a more professional footing. As we report this week, the property giant is using the services of IK Consult to oversee the appointment of a creative agency for a major international project. IK Consult, which is partners with the AAR’s rival Agency Assessments International, is to manage the process. It has already shortlisted four creative agencies and will now help Emaar take this list down to the final winner. It’s a decision that will be based upon the agencies’ credentials, creative ideas and, of course, ideas on pricing. To many — even in markets that are used to the idea — these matchmaking bodies are seen as a bad thing. They soak up an expensive annual membership, and cynics say they only start getting onto pitch lists when their renewal time is upon them. Every now and then, there’s a furore when a particular agency — which generally has to have a pretty good new business pipeline to make it brave enough to make a stand — decides to save some money and walk away from the process. But the role of good matchmakers is vital. And that’s why I say this chap Paul Phillips had such a tough job. Because you have to run a process that is scrupulously fair in order to keep your members happy, but that still comes out with the right result. You usually have to keep the thing in total confidence too. And this is the tough bit. At the end of the process, when you’ve worked really hard with, say, five agencies to help them show off what they can do, you have to break the hearts of four of them. You’ve got to be pretty hard-hearted to not let that get to you after a little while. Which is why I’m glad I’m not IK Consult’s Imad Kublawi, as he’s the man who’s going to have to make those telephone calls. But when the unlucky agency — and it will be three from Team Y&R, Face to Face, TBWA\Raad and Grey Worldwide — gets that depressing call, they should still welcome it. Because professionalising this process puts everybody on a level playing field. So long as all the agencies hit the correct pricing level, they will be being judged predominantly on the strategic thinking and creative abilities — not whose friends they are. In other words, the best will thrive, while those who are no good will lose out in the fight for new business. Once again, creativity will move up the ladder. It’s bound to be an at times bumpy process as people get used to how it works, but it is one that agencies would be wise to become experts in extremely fast, or face losing out to rivals. And as for Imad Kublawi, it’s time to brush up on that telephone manner.||**||

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