CMA releases new principles for RFPs

An update to its Code of Conduct also comes with the development of a toolkit to help clients navigate the search process.

The Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) has updated its Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, including the addition of a section for best practices during agency searches.

Section P of the Code, titled “Agency Search Principles,” instructs clients conducting an RFP to be clear on the size of the contract and who is on the client search committee, lays out what is reasonable to request during financial disclosure and sets guidelines for communication during the process and notifying participants about the search result.

Tackling one of the more onerous but persistent asks in the RFP process, it also discourages speculative work, limits the scope of the brief in situations where an agency is asked to work on a client’s current challenges and encourages the use of NDAs and non-use agreements during the spec work process.

“Considering how closely marketing effectiveness can be tied to the quality of partnerships between marketers and their communication agencies, the foundation of these partnerships is often an agency search,” said Kim Koster, principal at Koster Strategy and chair of the CMA Brand Strategy Council, in a blog post. The CMA Brand Strategy Council is a panel of industry veterans that provides input to CMA policy and advocacy efforts.

The organization is also developing an “Agency Search Toolkit,” a collection of resources to help both clients and agencies navigate the search process.

Currently, the toolkit includes a resource that goes into more detail about the principles in the Code and the rationale behind them, comparing it to the language used in the Code. For example, it explains that knowing the exact size of the contract helps agencies develop an appropriate approach (“a contract worth $1,000,000 requires a different approach, and possibly a different agency, than one worth $100,000″). The section on speculative work points out that spec rarely ends up in market because it is developed with only an introductory knowledge of the client’s business, while putting pressure on agency resources. It also explains why, if spec work is necessary, nondisclosure and non-use agreements help maintain intellectual property rights and professionalism, how limiting the brief to a specific challenge helps limit the burden places on agencies, and says parties should agree to financial considerations beforehand.

The document also states that the list of principles is not “exhaustive,” and is focused on the “key pain points” in the search process for both agencies and clients.

Future resources that will be added to the toolkit throughout the summer include guides on how to apply the principles to the not-for-profit sector, how to apply the principles to PR searches and how to prepare an effective procurement brief.

The RFP process and how to ensure they are fair continues to be an issue for agencies, both in Canada and internationally.

CMA members – which number over 400 companies and include clients, agencies, media companies, research firms and industry associations for other sectors – must confirm compliance with the Code on an annual basis. Complaints about perceived violations of the Code are resolved through an internal mediation process.

Other revisions to the CMA’s Code include updates for best practices for promotional contests, cannabis marketing and “environmental citizenship.” That section states that members must not make misleading claims about environmental impacts (in line with the Competition Act) and use methods to lessen the environmental impact of direct mail campaigns.