From Match.com and OkCupid to Hinge and Tinder, online and mobile applications are taking the dating world by storm, however, the algorithm-driven processes used by these sites don’t work for finding agency relationships.
Data-centric tools such as Sortlist claim to help marketers find their “soul mate” agency, much like what Match.com promises to do for singles. Sortlist and similar platforms use system intelligence to match an advertising agency and in-house marketers looking for services.
But an algorithm will never be able to replace real human connection when it comes to matching agencies and companies.
The AOR Model Goes MIA
Today, the traditional “agency of record” model is rapidly disintegrating. Clients used to be willing to ride out the valleys of their agency relationships, knowing that the peak was around the corner. As the number of advertising disciplines continues to increase, clients are less likely to believe that any one agency can be an expert in all of them, so they seek specialists for each task.
This changes their agency relationships as well, causing them to switch partners on a project-by-project basis — and making it all the more tempting to use an automated system for the selection process.
Where’s the Chemistry?
Marketers don’t just need an agency that meets their advertising and communications needs, they need to share a special chemistry with a partner. Tools such as Sortlist attempt to speed up the process by using context and data, but no amount of technical intricacy can mimic the human touch provided by consultants, recommendations, and word of mouth.
People in the agency world understand this better than people in any other industry. Our work is based on the fact that buying decisions are rooted in emotion–that’s why branding is so powerful. A machine can’t monitor or anticipate emotional reactions, and the process for hiring an agency is no different. In fact, the client-agency relationship is a lot like a marriage. For a marriage to work, you have to share a lot. You have to work together, respect each other’s ideas, share a common goal, make sacrifices, and confide in each other. That takes a lot of trust.
This relational element simply can’t be found in an online tool because:
Algorithms can’t judge ideas. Traditional matching methods generally involve some sort of pitch in which an agency shares its strategic ideas for solving a business’ pain points. Even the most complicated algorithm can’t tell whether ideas are on target, on strategy, or even executable. Plus, this process skips the important step when the client asks questions of the agency representatives, evaluating their answers, and their ability to think on their feet. This is often the tipping point in agency selection.
Algorithms can’t match style. Work style is an important part of the client-agency relationship. Considerations range from personalities to preferred communication styles and management techniques. In a traditional pitch, the client would have the chance to get a feel for the agency’s presentation skills and sales ability, but relying on an automated process removes this opportunity.
Algorithms can’t negotiate. Oftentimes, when a company or agency really wants to work with the other party, it’ll make concessions on things such as the timeline or the budget. A digital tool can’t evaluate the subjective component of negotiation.
On top of the relationship aspect that’s missing from online tools, there’s also the issue of success rates. The reason sites such as Match.com work is that site members are willing to go on bad dates until they meet someone they like. The success rate on the first try is abysmal.
This approach is fine for the online dating world, but marketers can’t afford bad dates. Businesses can’t afford to hire and fire multiple agencies to find the right one. They need to find a good partner on the first go-around or risk wasting time and money.
The Bottom Line
I’ve spoken to many search consultants (old-school agency “matchmakers”) who’ve told me that despite their best efforts to keep the process objective, subjectivity always wins out. It just comes down to the agency a client “likes the best.” That je ne sais quoi — that undeniable but inexplicable chemistry — is what determines the final decision.
Sure, I believe in screening agencies–it’s important for a client to check out agencies that offer the experience and capabilities they need–but that’s where the value of algorithms and RFPs begins and ends. From there, the only way to choose the right agency is to spend time talking, thinking, and working collaboratively on a project.
Ultimately, the best agency-client partnerships are the ones in which both parties genuinely like, respect, and trust each other. There’s no computer program in the world that can predict that.