Agency Searches and Reviews: What Type of Consultant is Right for You?
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Agency Searches and Reviews: What Type of Consultant is Right for You?

A very smart and knowledgeable industry leader recently told us that he thought a pitch consultant and a search consultant were one and the same. 

As a result of that comment and queries from several marketing and procurement clients about different types of internal and external consultants to help manage the complexities and intricacies of important, high-stakes agency reviews or searches, we are outlining the differences.

There are many valuable consulting specialties. Regarding agency searches or reviews, a pitch consultant and an agency search or review consultant provide valuable yet distinct services from one another at different budget levels.

Joanne Davis, President Joanne Davis Consulting is the author this article.

It first appeared as part of an ANA Blog in January 26, 2024. See original post here.

Pitch consultants are an excellent choice for clients who already have a strong handle on their needs, objectives, governance, desired agency model, and know the “commercial items.” A pitch consultant can support the development of an agency list/contacts and project management.

Agency search or review consultants are an excellent choice for clients requiring continuous counsel and expertise throughout all steps of a search when looking for a new agency partner or a review when evaluating the performance of their current agency. Clients with complex needs, such as global or decentralized structures, multiple lines of business with different requirements, or multiple stakeholders in a highly matrixed organization can benefit from the services of an agency search or review consultant.

To identify the type of consultant that’s the best fit for your needs, evaluate the five key milestones in an agency search or review and pinpoint where your company needs support.

Agency search or review milestones and defining the objectives, agency model options, planning, and establish the client governance

An agency search or review consultant is often hired to lead the work in this crucial stage involving:

  • A needs assessment with key stakeholders pinpointing challenges, establishing agency goals, identifying ways of working, determining budgets and assignments, competitor conflicts, and establishing search and selection criteria
  • Identification of the optimal agency model
  • Creation of the RFI and a compelling RFP to generate enthusiasm and engagement
  • Development of a governance model, identifying people and roles for sponsors, decision-makers, core team, other stakeholders
  • Customizing an end-to-end search process outlining all steps and decision points tailored to the client’s needs, governance model, corporate culture, procurement requirements, timeline, and budget

1. Project management – development of agency lists, scheduling, orchestrating meetings, logistics management

A client pitch consultant can lead the important work in this stage, particularly in cases where an agency search or review consultant has not been engaged for the other four agency search milestones, and internal teams have the expertise and time to lead the other parts of the search process. Included in this stage are:

  • Develop the initial list of qualified agencies for consideration that meet the client’s criteria, which requires a nuanced understanding of the agency landscape — as sometimes clients don’t have access to agency databases or contacts, and the pitch consultant can help.
  • Schedule and coordinate multiple meetings and logistics with agencies including assignment clarifying calls, semifinals meetings, finals meetings, in-person agency visits/work session meetings, and other necessary follow-up calls, all with multiple agencies — in addition to meeting logistics details such as agency and client attendee lists, coaching and communicating on ideal meeting room specs and configuration, IT/tech needs for meetings, storage and distribution of digital presentations, etc.
  • Check references for finalist agencies and compile a detailed summary report.
  • Communicate with advancing and eliminated agencies.

Some clients will engage a Pitch Consultant solely for the development of the agency list and contacts, and handle meeting logistics themselves if they have the resources.

2. Coach the client and advise on transition

An agency search or review consultant can provide ongoing counsel to the client throughout the entire search or review process to ensure a successful outcome and coach on the transition of the account to a new agency. Examples include:

  • Considerations on whether to include an incumbent in the search
  • Modify the process in real-time to respond to changing requirements or timeline shifts
  • Frameworks for best-in-class RFIs, RFPs, finalist assignments, scoring criteria, and weighting
  • Unbiased perspectives and tips on the evaluation of agency proposals
  • Communication plan frameworks and guidance for internal and external messaging
  • Guidance in transition planning and best practices to ensure a smooth and prompt transition
  • Engage with C-Suite leadership as necessary, conveying assurance, fostering confidence, addressing concerns, and seamlessly integrating their feedback

3. Manage the “commercial items” – scope, staffing and MSA

An agency search or review consultant can guide scope of work (SOW) development, staffing and fee analysis, and MSA/contract development, including:

  • Frameworks to guide the development of a clear and thorough SOW
  • Review and suggest modifications to the SOW to enhance clarity, ensure needed services are included, and right sizing the ask to the fee budget
  • Analysis of agency staffing and fee proposals, provide perspective on staff plan composition, seniority, competitiveness of rates, overhead, and profit margins
  • Lead staffing and fee negotiations to drive value and meet budgets
  • Deliver industry best practices and templates for MSA/contract development, assist and/or lead contract negotiation with client procurement and legal teams to ensure favorable terms for clients

4. Provide a historical perspective

An agency search or review consultant who has supported a client in prior searches can provide relevant context, leverage lessons learned and insights from the past which also helps when clients may lack continuity due to internal staffing changes. Many of our clients bring us back every few years when conducting a search or review, and we can offer the historical perspective they may not have, such as:

  • Reasons for the previous search and relative insights for the current search
  • The previous governance model and rationale, and insights on whether a similar or different model should be considered
  • Criteria that led to the agencies considered before
  • Agencies who performed well before and to consider again, who performed poorly and to potentially avoid, or had competitive conflicts before but may not now


Regardless of whether a pitch consultant or an agency search or review consultant is the right fit for you, a disciplined and thoughtfully planned search process holds the potential to bring an exceptional new agency partner for your company.

Consultant Types – At A Glance

Agency Pitch ConsultantHelp agencies prepare and manage “pitches” to clientsUsually not retained by client-side marketers and procurement as they work for agencies
Client Pitch ConsultantHelp clients by providing a list of agencies and sometimes handle logisticsRetained by clients who want a list of agencies and logistical support
Search ConsultantsHelp clients manage a complete end-to-end agency searchHired when clients lack expertise and bandwidth
Review ConsultantsReview Consultants are the same as Search Consultants that help clients manage a complete end-to-end agency reviewDifference from a Search is that a Review has the added sensitivities with incumbent agencies
Marketing ConsultantsHelp clients with marketing plans, general counsel, sometimes help client manage agency reviews, some advise agencies and the mediaHired to supplement marketing staff, not always hired to run reviews as they are marketing generalists rather than agency specialists, some hired by agencies and the media to learn about marketers
Audit ConsultantsConduct audits for clients, generally of media costsHired by clients to run audits, not always hired to run media reviews due to perceived conflict that the auditor is motivated to find an issue that will result in a media review
Cost ConsultantsHelp clients evaluate costs and rates of projectHired by procurement and marketers to assess project costs
Production ConsultantsHelp clients with a more holistic view of total production and content needs, optimizing processes and driving efficiencyHired to help with the full production program in addition to projects
Internal Client-Side Consultants – sometimes on an Agency Management Team, sometimes in Procurement or Strategic SourcingHelp marketers manage the review or search, in some companies, they are members of the selection and decision- making teamExperienced agency management talent is well suited to manage reviews or searches, they are often supplemented with outside consultants to fill in knowledge gaps and deliver more agency expertise (the average client conducts a few agencies reviews every 10 years while external consultants conduct numerous reviews a year)