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A Tip For CMOs as Agency Reviews Heat Up: Don’t Hire Agency Search Consultants if They Charge Agencies

A Tip For CMOs as Agency Reviews Heat Up: Don’t Hire Agency Search Consultants if They Charge Agencies

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We recently received an email from a major global agency with the following passage:

“I wanted to reach out to talk about partnering with Mercer Island Group on a more formal basis. Do you have anything you can share around how you like to partner with agencies and how you structure the partnership fees?”

How do we structure the partnership fees? Our response was simple:

  • We don’t charge agencies to be involved in a search. Ever.
  • We don’t charge agencies to be included in our proprietary database. Ever.

Isn’t that the way it should be? Our job as search consultants is to support our clients. We work hard to be experts in the agency marketplace. We have to be! It’s our job to be sure we are knowledgeable and up to date. Our clients pay us to help them solve their business and agency challenges. We can always put our clients’ needs first since they are the ones paying us. And clients can trust our recommendations as agencies can’t pay to be included in a Mercer Island Group review. We are their agent and we take that responsibility seriously. We are honored by their confidence and trust in us.

But not all consultants operate this way – and hence the question from that major agency. I recently heard from a senior exec at one of the major industry trade organizations that a consultant was charging agencies $100,000 to be included in a review. I was also personally approached recently with the offer to buy a consultancy that operated in a similar fashion – where the agencies pay to be included in reviews.

In this business model, the buyer/client may not have confidence in recommendations from a consultant that charges the agencies to participate.

Key leaders at many leading agencies agree!

“The best agencies in the world don’t need to pay search consultants for entry in competitive reviews (or related services). Why would they? They’re amazingly talented and their work tells the story of the agency. So, let the buyer beware of those who encourage agencies to do anything more than pitch hard and invest in potential partners.”
Matt Weiss, Huge

“We are big fans of client-side search consultant compensation. It truly values the work and the objective advice the consultant brings to the process. And it levels the playing field… there is no possibility of a hidden advantage given in some pay to play models”
Judith-Carr Rodriguez, FIG

“The reason to hire a search consultant is for their expertise of the agency universe. You want to cast your net wide to the best qualified agencies for your needs. What you don’t want to do is limit your universe with criteria that is not relevant to the request or solution you need.”
Jamie McGarry, Havas


So, what do you do if you’re a CMO? With the agency review space continuing to heat up, here are some questions CMOs and marketers should ask search consultants:

  • Do you charge agencies to participate in a review?
  • Do you charge agencies to be in your database?
  • If you consult to agencies in any capacity, which agencies have you worked with in the past 36 months? What was the nature of the work? Are you still engaged by the agency?

Oh – and one more thing. If you are an agency leader, our advice is straightforward: don’t pay a search consultant to be included in a review or to be in their database. Ever.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.