by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Rather than wait for things to go wrong, it’s better to start thinking about your people, processes and ways of working before the pitch process is complete.

It is easy to assume that agencies know how to handle taking on a new client — after all, they do it all the time. But every client is different, with different needs, structures, expectations and ways of working, and, at the start, the agency will only know what you have told it or what it’s assumed.


Put someone on your team in charge of the transition. They will then be able to manage the migration to the new agency, plan and manage the induction process, agree on phasing and help the agency build effective relationships. This is not a task for a junior member of the marketing team. It needs to be someone who knows the company well and its people along with the systems.

Also, it is important to remember that transition may take much longer than expected — it might be four weeks but it could be four months or more.

Scope of work

Talk to your marketing team about the scope of work and expectations. A new agency is a real opportunity for a new start but only if you are internally aligned about who, what and how.

Ask your day-to-day team about what has worked and what hasn’t, and then look to implement those changes to your systems now in order for your newly appointed agency to be able to work better with you.

Way of working

Define how you are going to work with your new agency. Establish not just how you want to sign off approvals but how you want to approach briefings and presentations. Put in place processes to manage behaviour you expect from the agency and from your own people. Decide how you will handle any niggles or irritations that may arise — and even check the process of the transition in point 1.

Induction plan

Make sure your induction plan is specific enough. It should cover who the agency needs to meet and in what order to speed up its learning. It should also set out the agreed scope of work and the phasing needed to prevent it being swamped in the early stages of the relationship.

And have a briefing pack ready for when the agency is appointed, covering the background and context of your business — and your other agencies — in as much detail as you can.

KPIs and SLAs draft framework

These need to reflect the scope of your expectations of the agency and therefore what working practices need to be in place to be tested during the first three months. Have these agreed to internally so that everyone has the same expectations.


Keep everyone informed internally of the progress of the pitch process — it still might take a while to complete — so your marketing team, other agencies and other stakeholders in the business need to be kept in the loop in the meantime.

Announcing the agency appointment

Consider your plan to announce the new appointment — internally, externally, via phone or email or press release. Timing and content are very important. Do you want to talk about a competitive pitch? Do you want to acknowledge the work of the previous agency? Who should be contacted and in what order?

Impact of the new agency

Prepare your team for the impact of the new agency — you may decide to change some of your working practices to accommodate the new agency, for example. Plus your other agencies on the roster might well be affected — the new agency might show up some deficiencies in the existing agencies. All of this needs to be managed.

Management of the other agencies

The other agencies on your roster need to be closely managed at this time so that they continue to deliver and start to collaborate fully with the new agency. This also includes the outgoing agency, so that a handover is successfully managed and that all communication is clear.

Advice from the incumbent agency

And, finally, if the purpose of the pitch is to replace the existing agency, ask the incumbent to share its key learnings from the relationship with you looking back, and its advice for the new agency.


It sounds like a lot of preparation work, and some of it you may be doing in a less formal way, but great planning around these issues ensures that a new agency relationship will get off to a flying start, and will mean fewer problems and less troubleshooting later on.


Johanna McDowellJohanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is managing director of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. Johanna is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. Currently she is running the IAS Marketers Masterclass, a programme consisting of masterclasses held in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits.

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