Advertising ManagementAgency SearchCultural FitMarketing and Advertising

Open vs. Closed Agency Review?

New Practices for Brand Marketers

The search for the right marketing agency and creative partner is a little bit like going to the dentist. It can bring you the anticipation of feeling refreshed and confident or depending on your prior experiences, that all too familiar sense of dread.  

Traditional agency sourcing models have evolved to smart, new ways of choosing the best advertising agency. While it’s not solving for all of the world’s woes, hiring the right advertising agency is a make or break business decision for marketing leaders (not to mention an expensive one). The right agency choice will result in fresh creative work that can catapult a brand to an elevated place, out of the noise that surrounds consumers.

This summer there are two hot sourcing methods that will have you smiling before 2023 budgeting begins.

Which one works for you?

Open Review: Industry-wide, comprehensive


  • Industry-wide agency search
  • Brand visibility
  • Current roster agency partners included
  • Full RFP process > discovery potential


  • Larger candidate pool
  • Scoring/Criteria-driven
  • Comprehensive screening
  • Data/Documentation-driven

An Open Review is one that allows for discovery of agency resources not yet known in an effort to have a thorough look at what’s new in the advertising industry.  This approach presumes a sense of discovery with less bias to the field of potential candidates (beyond some practical basic criteria).

To keep the Open Review manageable, a smarter RFP process is the principle way relevant information is exchanged. RFPs are still considered the go-to sourcing method for the big-ticket investment made by leading advertisers, especially when many stakeholders are involved.

Better than Ever

Many marketers engage in the RFP process to enable decision-makers to compare agency services, capability and price. A good RFP starts with a clear focus on specific criteria that ultimately drive the selection decision. Key stakeholders can participate in designing and reviewing information, ensuring that their needs and interests are considered. Doing so eliminates the rogue hiring decision and improves the odds that the agency selection is one that actually sticks.

The best RFPs offer both tactical and strategic value. The better ones ask for differential points of view from agency candidates. The worst ones ask for free speculative work.

There is no question that running an open review with a longer list of options can feel like necessary flossing… arduous and time consuming. Some RFPs are still managed is via email threads with Excel and PPT documents attached, making it a challenge to align people and data. Many procurement functions use RFP management software to deliver what is expected of them.

Zoom isn’t quite Enough

While reasonably effective at pre-qualifying agencies or weeding out those agencies with conflicts of interests, even the best managed RFP processes can fall short in producing valuable qualitative insights. (You know… little things like talent assessment, cultural fit and shared commitment to relationship success.)

Today’s remote work practices add an extra consideration. Meaningful success in sourcing creative services that ultimately require a co-creation process are marked by great connection and communication between client and agency teams. It’s simply hard to determine collaboration potential watching well delivered pitch presentations, as bright and sparkly as they may seem.

Advertisers remain on high alert for agency selection decisions that result in over-payment or underwhelming performance. Open reviews also take time (months) and resources (money). And many marketing leaders don’t have the patience for that.

Closed Review: Fast and Focused

The agency sourcing process remains a high-risk proposition for companies, especially as the world continues to learn to work remotely. Market forces and the need for agility are changing the way agency hiring takes place. Similar to the Executive Recruitment model a company uses for finding its key leaders – Closed Reviews move faster with focus, and are often by invitation-only. Top agency candidates are invited into consideration for a potential assignment after they are pre-qualified to meet a robust specifications profile, not unlike sourcing top candidates for a position description for a leadership role.


  • Follows Executive Recruitment model
  • Focused on top industry candidates
  • Faster, real time engagement
  • More targeted/discreet within industry


  • Accelerates hiring process
  • Prioritizes people/talent over published capability
  • Motivates agencies to higher levels of participation/investment
  • Focused on collaborative client-agency sessions
  • Less cost than open reviews

Similar to executive recruitment models, an elite group of top candidate agencies can be invited into online assessment platforms to capture important data about agency values, creative potential, collaborative behaviors and even conflict resolution. These are data-driven drivers of the co-creation process that ultimately determines whether the client company will realize full value from its hiring decision. (We call this cultural fit.)

With a focused agency candidate pool, higher quality interviewing and collaborative engagement exercises replace the long form RFP process and one way Pitch presentation. Closed Reviews deliver the ability to reveal shared ambitions and ideas about the future potential relationship. A well crafted brief and access to client teams also shapes the quality of brand work to be proposed by best contenders.

“ROJEK is excellent at strategic sourcing.  I highly recommend their insights driven process to define and focus on what you really need in an advertising agency partner to help grow your brand.  The CultureFit™ process is a game changer and was our touchstone of insights leading us to our perfect fit.”

SVP, Brand Marketing, Neighborly, 2022


The US Department of Labor states that the price of a poor hiring decision is 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings at a minimum. Imagine the analogy applied to annual fee dollars spent with your agency?

When a company retains an expert who is experienced in the art of agency hiring, it receives a properly better qualified, and better fitting agency partner than searching industry databases or visiting websites will allow.

Whether you search for your next agency partner far, wide and publicly or you prefer to operate like a stealth pilot in the night, ROJEK offers its clients proven ways of finding the best agency partners. Agency leaders also appreciate our trusted, straight-forward, collaborative review process.

Time for a check-up?