In a business environment that is in flux and with CMOs having to react constantly to shifting ground underneath their feet, deciding to run a pitch to shake up the organisation’s agency roster can seem like one too many challenges at the wrong time.
Whilst there should always be an intent to ‘fix rather than pitch’ if there are problems in the relationship, there are some instances (such as new capabilities or the need for specialist talents, for example) where it will be the only way forward. Unlike in previous years, however, agency reaction to an invitation to pitch may not be as welcoming.
A combination of agency staff burnout, lockdown fatigue and previous bad pitch process experiences have made agencies far more selective and cautious about diving head-first into what on paper might seem like a pitch process to be involved in.
On both sides of the fence there are added challenges to running and getting the best out a pitch process.
And, with the publication of the ISBA/IPA Pitch Positive Pledge in the UK, it’s vital that advertisers take heed of the key principles outlined if they want to be able to select the best possible partner from the agency community.
The following builds on some simple principles to assist brands in approaching their pitch process:
Be clear about what you are shopping for
A pitch process should not be an opportunity to window shop the agency market. Offering the chance to pitch for a project that may or may not happen in the future is a waste of everybody’s time —and unfortunately happens more often than you would think. A brand needs to be clear about what they want to buy and what they want to pay for. Things don’t come for free not matter how intangible they are, so respect the fact that what you are buying is talent, inspiration, teamwork, ideas, expertise, insight and intellectual property
Open up about your business challenge
Be specific in the business challenge you are looking to solve and don’t be afraid to overshare on the details if you are able to. Articulating where you are and where you want to get to will be music to any agency strategic planner’s ears. It also provides you with a flagstick to measure them against when they come back to present.
Transparent process through communication
Before entering into any process, alert the agencies involved of the pitch timeframe, the various stages and the likely level of engagement you expect of them. Increasingly agencies will steer away from lengthy processes that sap too much of their time with no fixed deadline. It’s important not to rush the process but be fair and reasonable in the amount of time the agency has to develop their proposal and the amount of time you have to evaluate them.
There is an increasing sense of “What goes around comes around”, with reputations and horror pitch stories being actively shared around the industry. Some agencies have been known to refuse to participate in some processes purely because of the client running the process or a brand’s reputation as to how they have run previous pitch processes. It is vital that a client respects the agencies’ time, resource and work even if they do not end up being the eventual winner of the pitch process. The aim should be for losing agencies thanking you for inviting them to such a well-run and rewarding pitch.
Deliver a quick verdict with feedback
No feedback is worse than bad feedback. Ensuring that all agencies are clear as to where they stand and how well they have performed following the final evaluation is vital, delivering this information in a timely fashion is recommended. It is expected that due process and time is required to evaluate and to approve a final winning agency but keep up the communication with all participating agencies as you make this decision.
Running an effective pitch process takes time and resource for both the brand and the agency. Agencies have more experience of these processes and can sniff out an unprepared client with ease at the start of the process. As a brand you have to be prepared to commit your time, energy and organizational skills to get the best out the process and boost your reputation as a brand in the process.
The author is managing partner, Greater China & Southeast Asia, The Observatory International