Don’t Blame the Bait & Switch

One of the standard questions asked of agencies during an agency selection process is, “Can I meet the team who will work on my business?” This question often gets asked because of a concern that agencies showcase top talent during a pitch presentation and then put “junior or other” talent on the business, leading to what’s known as the “bait and switch.”

But here is the truth: agencies don’t get fired for the bait and switch.

They get fired for bad work. 


The answer I want to give to the “can I meet my team” question is not yet…you can’t meet the precise team that is going to work on your business, because not a single agency has a team of their best people sitting around waiting for your business, nor can we hold the perfect team in limbo during your selection process, which more often than not, doesn’t stick to its timeline. Furthermore, until we learn more about each other, how do we know how to staff the best team for you?

Don’t get me wrong, the team is the most important piece of the relationship equation, and I believe how a team works together is the best precursor for success between an agency and client. However, I believe the selection process is a job interview for the agency, not any one team or individual. Great performers in the room are not always the best practitioners, just like some of the best account people can’t sell in the room. Even if agencies could put together the perfect team during a defined pitch process, there are many other contributing factors toward success. The nature of the assignment, the decision makers, personalities and politics all play a role in what makes a good fit, and they change constantly. People come in and out of agencies, move accounts and sometimes seem like a fit and aren’t. Individuals alone do not make for success; it’s the collective relationship that matters most.

Perhaps the most important question shouldn’t be, “Who are the people who will work on my account?” But rather, “How do I find the right agency that understands us and meets the ever-changing needs of our communications function?”

The most effective way to get the answer is to build a relationship with your potential partner. The selection process should be a time to share information and get to know the agency and people in the right kind of environment. The questions that are more important than individual team members should focus on the systems, culture, structure and capabilities of the agency. If these areas match up, there is a higher probability of quality work and a long-term successful partnership.

Better questions for selecting an agency team include:

  • What systems do you have in place to help manage our relationship?
  • How do you bring specialists onto the team?
  • How do you manage projects?
  • How do you select the team that services our business?
  • What is your Profit & Loss (P&L) structure?
  • How do regions, practices and people work collaboratively with separate P&L structures?
  • How do you onboard new team members onto our business later in the relationship?
  • Will you ever switch up our team once it’s established? Why?
  • How do we communicate about issues and challenges?
  • Can we meet members of the team in small groups in a non-presentation setting?
  • Who will ultimately be responsible for my business?

A strong team is only as good as its agency infrastructure. The important thing is that a partnership has shared values and trust. So, instead of asking to meet the precise team, spend more time getting to know the agency culture, systems and people so you build the right team to do the right work at the right fee structure.