Search Consultants play an important role in the agency world.
They may only represent about 25% of agency searches, but typically manage the biggest searches. They are an important gate keeper.
Given their role, we’re often asked how agencies can work more effectively with search consultants. What’s the key? The key to working with search consultants is to recognize that we are a “channel”, and to follow the 4 R’s.
The 4 R’s
There are 4 key strategies to engaging with Search Consultants:
- Readiness: Be prepared before you connect
- Radar: Get on their radar
- Relationships: Communicate effectively
- Reviews: Go all in and follow the rules
Our job is not to market your agency. In most cases (which should be all cases!) the consultant works for the client and is their agent. They should represent the best interests of the client and to help narrow from thousands of agencies to the small group best suited to help the client succeed. For agencies that means: be ready. A “ready” agency:
- Is well positioned: Have a clear frame of reference (what kind of agency are you) and a compelling position. One fellow consultant said: “Be clear in how you’re positioned – culture, capability and competency”
- Has a prospect friendly website: Prospect friendly websites help visitors find the information they need. The frame of reference and positioning are on the home page. Capabilities are clear. Current and past client experience is highlighted. Case studies and bios are compelling. Key data like headcount is covered.
- Has done their homework regarding the Search Consultants: We are similar and yet very different at the same time. Do your homework! There are only about 30 US-centric Search Consultants and less than ten of us do most of the searches. It’s easy to figure us out. What kinds of clients do they serve in scale or industry or agency type? Do they require or encourage you to pay to be included in their database (do not do this!)? Do they charge you to be in a review (and certainly don’t do this!).
Doing your research in advance of outreach will prepare you well for any interactions you end up having and you’ll make a better first impression. As one Search Consultant put it: “Determine if you should be on our radar. We are hired by national brands that are looking for agencies doing world-class work.”
Once ready, you need to get on our radar. Clients don’t follow the agency industry as closely as agency execs. We do. We stay current because it’s our job. The best way to get on Search Consultants’ radar is to be unavoidable. You want the consultant to have to take your call. Here’s how:
- Awards & Work that Gets Noticed: Awards are important because clients don’t pay attention to the industry until they have to – and then they start searching. You need to be findable. Awards increase the odds that you are found and provide additional third-party credibility.
- The Lists: Most agency niches have lists, like lists of top agencies in a field or city or “best lists”.
- Press Coverage: Many clients do not routinely read the “trades”, but consultants do. Trade coverage helps your “findability”, builds your reputation and can introduce agencies to the consultants. Consider hiring a PR pro that specializes in agencies.
- Content: Most agency content is not terribly helpful and doesn’t advance their reputation. A successful content program highlights the agency’s deep expertise and helps the agency stand out.
Get on consultants’ radar. Be unavoidable.
How do you create lasting personal relationships? Through communication and trust. How do you create a strong consultant relationship? The same way, through communication and trust. We’re busy. Treat us with the same respect that you expect and you’ll do well. In essence:
As we heard from another Search Consultant: “Only communicate when you have real news – a new piece of business, an important hire, etc.”
You diligently addressed the readiness steps, made yourself unavoidable and have started to create a relationship with some search consultants. And now your agency has made it to a consultant-led review! Once you make it into a review, the hard work really starts.
Go All-In. These opportunities are few and far between for many agencies, so make the most of it:
Follow the Rules. Do not go around the consultant or go outside the rules without permission.
Be Gracious. Only one agency will win. Losing a review is a tough pill to swallow after putting in so much effort! But… be gracious in defeat. Leave everyone with a favorable impression of your agency.
Thank you Adweek!
This article was originally published in Adweek on 11/21/22. You can read it here.
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.