Here’s the Skinny & Their Names
Steve’s breakdown: Agencies ask me about search consultants all the time. The main thing about these folks is you should be aware of them. Maybe even make friends with them.
This is especially important if you are an Independent Agency because they always call the giant holding companies like WPP, IPG etc first. On the other hand, indy shops have to get on there list of agency contenders with grit, humor, sticktoitiveness (my fav) and a machine capable of pumping out an RFP that looks great, reads great and has no red flags.
Here’s the 4As list of 24 search consultant companies: Search Consultants Document
Below are 13 consultant companies profiled by Business Insider. Now go make some friends. 😀
EVERYWHERE, USA: Insider Intelligence estimates that advertisers will spend nearly $1 trillion on global advertising by 2024.
At any given time, dozens of big advertisers are looking to hire ad agencies to handle that spending.
To make these and other key decisions, many brands hire from a little-known category of firms called management consultancies or search consultants. These consultants act as gatekeepers, deciding which agencies get to compete for advertisers’ business.
There’s a lot of money at stake. Search firms can charge big advertisers $150,000 to $350,000 for each six-to-nine month search, said Tom Denford, co-CEO of search firm ID Comms.
The field is dominated by a few firms, but competition is heating up as former ad execs enter the fray. Some insiders expect the consulting giants will also get more active in the field. KPMG doesn’t conduct standalone searches, but the firm just hired a former Flock Associates exec to expand its US marketing consultancy. And search firms also compete with marketers’ own procurement departments, which many use to save time and money.
Agencies also spend thousands to win advertisers’ business every year, and as their budgets get tighter, they need to be up on the consulting firms and know which brands to pitch.
The search space took a hit over the past year as clients cut budgets and delayed hiring new agencies, but several execs said the last few months have been their busiest ever. Consulting firm R3 Worldwide, which tracks agency searches globally, counted more than 6,000 in 2020, compared to 5,600 in 2018 and around 4,500 in 2017.
We’ve identified the following top 13 firms, listed in alphabetical order, based on existing and original reporting.
Full-time employees: 5
Recent clients: Brown-Forman, Audible, Self Financial
One of the oldest search consultancies, AAR Partners has been backed by private equity since List Partners acquired it in 2018.
The firm started in 1975 as Advertising Agency Register, providing a catalog that marketers could use to confidentially review the then-rapidly growing number of ad agencies, said president Lisa Colantuono.
AAR makes most of its money from agency searches in areas such as creative, media and PR. It also makes money charging agencies to be included in the registry, with annual fees ranging from $450 to several thousand dollars depending on an agency’s size and services it receives.
Colantuono said she doesn’t engage in the “pay-for-play” practice that has been a sticking point, because she doesn’t only recommend agencies in her directory. She said most contracts she arranges last more than three years.
AAR recently expanded its services to advise agencies on issues like intellectual property and help marketers who want to run their own agency searches.
Full-time employees: 2
Recent clients: Prudential, Hotels.com, Visit Philadelphia
Founded 13 years ago by former execs at ad agencies and brands like Kraft Heinz, Ark Advisors works with small advertisers all the way up to big names like Tiffany & Co., said owner Ken Robinson.
The firm pitches itself as having extensive knowledge of agencies of all sizes and not charging agencies directly for its services.
Ark Advisors also helps marketers evaluate their contracts on an annual basis.
Robinson said the agency search business has been healthy during the downturn, but sees a full recovery being months away because CMOs aren’t ready to commit to long-term spending.
Full-time employees: 520
Recent clients: Unilever, BMW, Enterprise
One of the biggest companies by headcount, the firm has a strong presence in Europe and Asia, while it faces stiff competition from MediaLink in the US.
CEO Nick Waters, who previously worked at WPP and Dentsu, said the firm focuses exclusively on media-buying agencies, running an average of 100 searches per year.
But most of Ebiquity’s revenue comes from auditing marketers’ ad planning and buying to make sure they’re spending money effectively and their agencies are delivering.
When Accenture folded its auditing practice last year, Ebiquity picked up more than a dozen of Accenture’s top clients.
Ebiquity ran just 60 searches in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Waters said he’s seen a significant uptick in recent months as marketers review their capabilities and see that hard-hit agencies are more likely to accept lower fees.
Full-time employees: 60
Recent clients: McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Ford
Around a third of Flock Associates’ revenue comes from agency searches. Another third involves helping clients manage talent and the rest concerns improving marketing processes and helping CMOs with their tech and data strategies.
In recent years, the firm created a new agency model at Omnicom for McDonald’s and helped Ford hire new agencies, review its handling of commercial production work, and rewrite its contracts with WPP.
Revenue should return to pre-COVID levels by late 2021 as more brands look to optimize their marketing, CEO Simon Francis predicted.
In addition to other agency search firms, Flock competes with big-name consultancies like McKinsey, BCG, and KPMG for top clients like McDonald’s and Johnson & Johnson.
Full-time employees: 40
Recent clients: T-Mobile, Hershey, Lindt & Sprüngli
ID Comms, founded by former Nike and Dentsu execs, specializes in helping big brands in Europe and the US review their ad budgets and search for ad agencies.
The firm recently acquired PJL Media to expand the media auditing service that goes with the search process. Co-CEO Tom Denford said demand has increased since a 2016 Association of National Advertisers report uncovered alleged kickback schemes among media-buying agencies.
The firm recently created a project management system so marketers can find an agency without sharing proprietary information via email.
ID Comms prides itself on turning down big brands that are just looking to cut their agency costs, which Denford said hurts the agencies’ business and commoditizes search firms’ work.
Joanne Davis Consulting
Full-time employees: 4
Recent clients: TD Bank, Intel, Buffalo Wild Wings
Joanne Davis founded the firm in 2000, and her pitch is that she avoids conflicts of interest by only taking fees from marketers and not agencies. She maintains a free agency database and also doesn’t do media audits, which she said can motivate consultants to find problems in hopes the client will hire them to do an agency search.
Joanne Davis Consulting also trains marketers on how to write agency creative briefs, documents that say what a company wants in an ad campaign; and acts as an intermediary to agencies and clients that don’t want to launch searches, she said.
During the pandemic, Davis said her firm helped many marketers renegotiate their agency contracts, often helping them get lower agency fees.
The New York-based consultancy also works with Amsterdam-based search firm Scan International. Davis said her new business pipeline is full and expects many big brands to search for agencies this year.
Full-time employees: 70
Recent clients: Coca-Cola, Sanofi, Kraft Heinz
MediaSense is running the industry’s biggest agency search, for Coca-Cola, and Graham Brown, co-founder and CEO, said he expects 2021 to be a busy year for agency searches after a relatively quiet 2020.
The majority of its business comes from helping brands get the most value out of their ad dollars. MediaSense has a presence in Asia, India, the US, and Europe and boasts long-term relationships with most of its clients.
Pitching is expensive and time consuming for agencies, and Brown said it could be a tough year for them. He said MediaSense tries to manage expectations for agencies and clients.
“We have a sense of responsibility to these people,” Brown said. “To our clients first and to the people pitching.”
Pile & Co.
Full-time employees: 8
Recent clients: Comcast, CVS Health, Post Consumer Brands
Boston-based Pile & Co., founded in 1987, is one of the older management consultancies. President Meghan McDonnell, who has been with the firm since 1999, said that familiarity has helped the firm compete as new consultants enter the industry and marketers increasingly use their procurement departments to find agencies.
“Plenty of times, clients come to us and we find that the issue is not changing agencies but putting in a process to improve a relationship or change up the team that’s on the business,” she said.
McDonnell said business initially slowed in the pandemic but picked up as clients started spending again.
Full-time employees: 100
Recent clients: Philips, Samsung, Nestle China
Founded in 2002 by former agency exec Greg Paull, R3 Worldwide is one of the largest search firms, with big clients in China, India, and Europe.
Paull said a big share of R3’s business involves consulting to marketers to improve their agency relationships, as it’s done for client Colgate-Palmolive and its agency WPP for the past four years.
Paull said for agencies wanting to be known to R3, he recommends they reach out and share their most recent work.
The pandemic didn’t have much of an impact on R3’s revenue even though searches slowed down because business in China picked up and the firm’s marketing consulting work stayed steady, Paull said.
“A lot of clients just want an opinion on how they’re doing,” he said.
Full-time employees: 4
Recent clients: White Castle, Planet Fitness, Signet Jewelers
CEO Lorraine Stewart said that unlike other firms that focus on costs and capabilities, Rojek focuses on agency culture in doing searches, as it did for Signet jewelers and its Kay, Zales, and Jared brands.
Most of Rojek’s revenue comes from search fees, but during the pandemic, it started selling agencies new tools to develop data-based organizational profiles, position themselves in the market, and plan M&A.
2020 was busy for Rojek, with marketers dropping agencies, seeking lower fees, or shifting toward a performance-based model. Stewart said the new tools would help the firm grow as agencies pay more attention to culture in the remote work environment.
She also predicted that the health and wellness industry would be especially active in 2021 as insurance companies, hospitals, pharma giants, and medical equipment makers reassess their marketing in the pandemic.
Roth Ryan Hayes
Full-time employees: 7
Recent clients: Home Depot, Enterprise Holdings, The National Football League
Roth Ryan Hayes was founded as Roth Associates in 1988 by Dick Roth, a longtime consultant who died in early 2021. Today the firm is run by CEO Matt Ryan and partner Chris Hayes, to whom Roth sold a controlling stake in 2016.
Ryan is a former WPP, Havas, and IPG exec, and said his team stands out because of its longstanding agency experience. He said while the firm does its own research as part of a search, agencies can get on his radar by winning awards or sharing their work with the firm.
“When we do a search, we do a lot of digging around on our own based on the marketer’s criteria,” Ryan said. “It’s not a requirement for an agency to be in contact with us.”
Select Resources International
Full-time employees: 9
Recent clients: Sam’s Club, Humana, McDonald’s
30-year-old Select Resources International does agency searches for marketers, inviting around 800 agencies to compete in searches each year, CEO Catherine Bension said.
Recently, it helped Sam’s Club pick WPP’s VMLY&R as its main agency in one of the first completely remote pandemic searches. In 2017, it helped McDonald’s consolidate its US franchise agencies to seven from 60.
Around 65% of its business comes from execs it has worked with in the past, like CMOs moving to new companies, Bension said. SRI also has a PR search practice that’s based in Nashville.
In recent years, the firm has shifted to helping clients take greater control of their data and production work and with diversity and inclusion efforts.
SRI also has a subscription program that guarantees agencies meetings with the firm, and it consults with marketers preparing to renegotiate agency contracts.