Linking the Use of Advertising Agency Review Consultants to Agency Search Outcomes

Fred K. Beard
Koanghyub Kim

Many marketers turn to independent consultants to help manage the search for a new advertising agency, with some estimates indicating consultants are managing the majority of moderate to large account reviews (Petrecca, 1997; Wells, 1994a). Although the hiring of review consultants has been controversial since its emergence in the 1970s - with advertising agency and consultant adversaries frequently airing charges and criticisms in the pages of industry publications such as Advertising Age and Adweek - no empirical research has appeared examining the practice.

Some marketers and agency executives agree both sides may benefit from the use of review consultants. Managing the search for the best advertising agency is an important, complex, and time-consuming task, which some suggest is poor use of a top executive's time (Miller, 1990). Likewise, it seems reasonable to conclude that if great care and effort are devoted to selecting the right agency initially, the prospects for a successful, long-term relationship will be enhanced (Wackman, Salmon, and Salmon, 1987). Conversely, among the criticisms of review consultants are (1) that they may bias both the review process and outcomes by recommending only certain advertising agencies or types of advertising agencies (Donath, 1977; Donath and Revett, 1977; Tyrer and Furchgott, 1994; Tyrer and Sullivan, 1993; Wells, 1994a); and (2) that consultants encourage clients to put accounts in review or 'unbundle' creative and media portions of accounts to bolster their own fees (Wells, 1994a).