A Long, Slow Walk Toward the Altar

Sep 01, 2011


Al Topin
Twelve agencies respond to a 15-page request for proposal (RFP) for a new drug launch. Eight are called in to present capabilities. The out-of-town shops fly a team in and stay overnight to attend this two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

Four move forward and are given an extensive brief. For 30 days each agency team (at least eight to 10 senior account service, creative, and production staff) labors at building speculative strategies, communications plans, concepts, and tactics. Each then returns to the client to present their thinking to a group of top executives.

The client makes its choice, and the brand team and its winning agency are off to the races. Of course, the launch timing is tight—it always is—so the agency rushes to build a launch program, usually starting from scratch after the pitch. A comfortable 18-month process is squeezed into six, as both client and agency spend days, nights, and weekends developing a campaign, finagling with regulatory, responding to DDMAC, and getting it out the door. Thousands of e-mails and hundreds of conference calls later (plus many face-to-face meetings), they pull off the launch.

But even though the launch is deemed a success, the celebration doesn't last long. The client is shocked at the added costs that come in for multiple rounds of changes, overtime, and the added agency staff needed to get the job done. The agency team can't understand why its extra human efforts go unappreciated and now finds itself defending even the smallest invoice.

Communication becomes stilted. The agency is excluded from several planning meetings. Estimates and hours are challenged. And 18 months from the date of selection, the relationship comes to an end as the client calls for a review, which includes the current agency. The agency politely declines the opportunity.