James Swan
Feb 15, 2024

Pitch 'ghosting' is not on in 2024

Pending a pitch, James Swan worked out his agency invested over $12,000 of resources responding to the brief; only for the brand in question (a self-professed ‘people-first business’) to neglect bothering to let them know the outcome.

Photo: Getty Images.
Photo: Getty Images.

For any growing agency, investment in pitches isn’t exactly small change. Neither is it good for team morale when we don’t hear back.

The challenge, for any agency, is that new-business pitching is essential. Until we fix the pitching system (and there’s a subject for another time!), it’s the only way.

Before I continue, it’s worth noting this isn’t going to be a ‘hate on clients’ piece. There are plenty of thoughtful, considered businesses that value agency time and counsel, and spend time providing feedback.

Equally, I know there are plenty of agency horror stories. We are not all paragons of virtue either.

However, in the current economic climate, the value placed on the time invested by the pitching agencies is not just considerate, it’s critical.

As Shannon Tucker from Next PR summarised perfectly in a recent LinkedIn post, the pitch process is incredibly time-consuming. It requires a careful balancing act in terms of resourcing the team to ensure we have the best chance of winning a pitch, while also maintaining excellent service levels for existing clients.

And so, if we’re investing time and effort into helping a brand, leaving us hanging for weeks on end—or neglecting to respond full stop—is not OK. And this is, unbelievably, still a common issue, years after the discourse started.

On this note, it’s brilliant to see New York design agency Porto Rocha taking the lead by inviting the creative industry to sign a public initiative against the imbalanced pitching system.

So, what else can we do to level up the playing field? For me, there are a few quick wins:

  • No tissue, no pitch—A tissue session means a client is likely to get a much stronger pitch response. However, I can think of at least two recent pitches when the prospective client refused us a tissue, citing lack of time. As all small agencies will know, walking away from an opportunity is hard. But we’ve learned it’s a false economy. Tissues are essential!
  • Brands, please agree on your brief first—Before a brand even thinks about briefing an agency, they need to ask themselves: “What is it that we really want? Are we all aligned?” We recently encountered a business that claimed “the pitch process made us realise we actually solely want corporate PR, not consumer”, even though expertise in the latter was a key part of the brief. Using a pitch process to figure out what you DON’T want is a waste of everyone’s time. Please stop!
  • Make feedback part of the process—All feedback (whether you’ve won or lost a pitch) is crucial and shouldn’t be so difficult for agencies to get. Diarising feedback sessions at an agreed time post-pitch would help here. Even if a decision hasn’t been reached by then, it doesn’t do any harm to pick up the phone or fire off a quick email to let the pitching agency know the status. And, when it comes to the final decision, “We decided to go in a different direction” doesn’t constitute feedback, so we will be on the phone to ask for more.

For now, though, we would take just knowing the pitch outcome. Feel free to call us back, anytime!

James Swan is an associate director at Red Lion PR.


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