Traditional agency searches are inefficient and ineffective for Brands

Traditional agency searches are inefficient and ineffective for Brands

The RFP selection process, for all types of clients, brands & agencies, is flawed. That’s why we’re pushing “to retire the RFP” from global business practice.

And we’ve got a firm plan for what should replace it. Our QBS Agency Search Guide focuses on QBS (Qualification-Based Selection), a process that will ultimately help client organizations to buy creative services that are critical, complex, and customized.

With the ever-changing marketing landscape this can be a daunting task. How do you source the best agencies to provide solutions for your unique challenges effectively and efficiently, while encouraging agencies to provide the most innovative solutions?

RFPs are perfect for sourcing direct, commodity, benchmarkable goods and services but not so effective for creative and strategic professional services. QBS is a long-standing methodology used in the US for the procurement of public architecture and engineering services. The similarities between the A/E and the advertising agency sector means that QBS can effectively be utilized by advertisers in the agency search process.

We’ve focused the rationale and arguments for using the QBS methodology around efficiencies for clients and delivering greater levels of effectiveness.

The QBS methodology is easy to integrate into a client/brand’s existing sourcing process by using the easy to follow guide that is packed with case studies and templates. QBS is also fully supported with consultation and training to cover the full spectrum of your team’s needs. We provide ongoing guidance, workshops or bootcamps. Connect with Leah Power for more information on how we can support you.

The guide is available free of charge to marketers and procurement people and covers the following areas in detail:

  • Issues with the current RFP process
  • What to do before an agency search
  • What to do after an agency search
  • Preparing for your first QBS agency search

Frequently Asked Questions

Read the 12 Principles for a Great Agency Search here

To register for your free copy, just leave your details here:

The ICA will only use your information to complete this request and to announce information relevant to the material you have requested. We do not share, rent or sell personal information to anyone. From time to time, the ICA may notify you about other relevant content & offers. You may unsubscribe at any time. If you wish to be contacted for promotional purposes, please check above.

QBS Agency Search - FAQ

What is the QBS Methodology?

  • Uses Performance-Framed Case Studies (PFCS)
  • No request for speculative insights, strategy or creative
  • Defined Budget & Nature of Requirements
  • Proprietary questions
  • Interviews
  • Price negotiations with the most qualified firm
  • Simple scoring rubric

Why is it time to change the agency selection process?

Along with identifying the best agency, the process should be fair, transparent, efficient and provide a tangible method for quantifying the value and relevance of expertise. Unfortunately, the traditional price-based Request for Proposal (RFP) process falls short. This approach has long been recognized by agencies and other professional services firms (ranging from architecture to IT to management consulting) and leaders in the procurement community, as a race to the bottom that serves neither the interests of the agency nor the client.

What is QBS agency selection?

Qualification-Based Selection was developed many decades ago to overcome the shortcomings of the price-based RFP. It is a procurement process that focuses on finding the most qualified provider of professional services, at a fair and negotiated price, instead of the least qualified provider, at an artificially low price. It is perfect for professional services that are custom, complex, and costly.

I’ve never heard of QBS, is it new?

In 1972, the United States federal government implemented the Brooks Act, federal legislation that requires that low-price not be part of the selection criteria when hiring engineering or architecture firms. It is interesting to note that since then 47 states have also implemented similar Qualifications-Based Selection legislation and in almost 50 years, none have reverted to the use of price-based RFPs.

Several studies have proven that when compared to a typical price-based Request for Proposal (RFP) process, QBS provides a quicker and lower cost procurement process, that delivers higher quality solutions with fewer schedule and budget overages, greater innovation, long-term solutions instead of short-term thinking, and lower long-term costs. In fact, the 2009 QBS study is now being updated. Check it out the news here: University of Colorado Boulder and Georgia Tech QBS Study.

QBS is identified as a procurement best-practice and has been used around the globe primarily in the selection of architecture and engineering services for decades and has been making significant inroads into other professional services such as advertising, creative services, management consulting, and IT. It is perfect for professional services that are custom, complex, and costly and in this regard, it is a perfect solution to address the significant issues related to the typical price-based Request for Proposal (RFP) used in many agency procurements.

What are the elements of a good agency search?

  • A quick, low-cost process for both client and agency.
  • Focus on collaboration and value, and don’t create an adversarial stance.
  • Clear and obvious selection criteria and scoring rubrics that create separation, not clustering.
  • Fair and unbiased, and with a transparent and appropriate amount of competition.
  • Contests and spec creative are never appropriate, and respect the IP and expertise of the participants.
  • Selection of the most qualified firm at a fair price instead of least qualified firm at a low price.

How do I prepare for my first QBS agency search?

A well-written standardized RFP document that you typically use for agency searches is a fair starting place. The easiest way to shift to a QBS process from an RFP process is to simply use your existing RFP document and change the weighting of price to 0%. Then distribute the percentage that was previously assigned to price and assign it to expertise. If you do not have expertise as an evaluated criterion then create it and make sure it is heavily weighted.

Going a step further, in our model we advocate that expertise is the ONLY evaluated criteria and that all other criteria are mandatory and not evaluated. 

What are the elements of a QBS (Qualification-Based Selection) agency search?

The goal of a QBS agency search is to help marketers and procurement find the most qualified agency that they can afford. Reviewing speculative creative is not an effective, nor an efficient, way to determine qualifications. Agencies in a QBS search submit case studies that are Performance-Framed and present the agency’s ability to replicate success. Going beyond the standard case study format of Problem / Solution / Outcome, Performance-Framed Case Studies require the agency to provide evidence of their process to show how they work with a client through the twists and turns of an engagement and how they achieved success.

Some of the other elements of a QBS search are:

  • Start with an RFI to limit Phase 1 participants to 6-8 agencies
  • A disclosed budget
  • A clear and transparent scoring rubric
  • Both evaluated and mandatory criteria
  • Limited proposal pages to save your team time and energy and to get succinct and creative submissions from agencies
  • Proprietary questions to encourage high innovation
  • Disclosure of distribution
  • Interviews to interrogate case studies, expertise, team members, leadership and qualifications
  • A robust debrief with all short-listed agencies
  • Price is still very important…you’ll just be negotiating with the most qualified agency

To find out more about these elements and full details on how to manage a successful QBS agency search, complete with all of the templates you’ll need, please complete the form above.