Pitching in – how marketers can improve the process
A successful pitch is not the sole responsibility of the submitting Agencies. Marketers play a key role in the calibre of Agency output.
Below we have compiled a list of observations to assist our clients to generate the best possible response from candidate Agencies when they go to market.
Those Marketers who have worked with Enth Degree will recognise much of the commentary below.
While some of these are obvious, the distractions of daily responsibilities can often derail the best intentions.
Know What You Want from the Pitch Process
Sounds obvious? Well not always. Dramatic changes in both marketing and communication channels over the past five years present Marketers with myriad options.
Does all work need to be outsourced? E.g. Could search be undertaken internally? Who develops content? Can we manage multiple suppliers, or appoint an Agency Group that can provide all services? The options are endless.
Before outsourcing creative, digital or media, consider your internal resources. Are they an asset that can be developed? Would their role be better managed if outsourced?
While the review process will help clarify the optimum supply chain, be open to evaluating the total communications mix before you commence the process.
Respect the Agency’s Time
One of the first steps is to develop a process timeline. The vast majority of clients we meet do not have the luxury of an extended time period, yet limiting the process timeline is never a good idea. You are entering a partnership that (hopefully) will be long term. At a minimum it is likely to be 3 years.
While Agencies climb over each other to get on a pitch list, it’s not their day job. The pitch process is a stressful drain on Agency resources.
The Agency needs sufficient time to dedicate the required resource and to prepare a thorough, well considered response, yet continue to service their existing clients to the level that won their business.
We recommend a minimum four week timing from brief to presentation. During this period the client needs to make themselves available for at least one workshop / tissue session to ensure that the Agencies’ endeavours are on track to address the client’s anticipated direction.
We have heard clients say “… if they want our business, they will do it in the time we give them … let’s see how they perform under pressure.” This is no way to identify an Agency’s capabilities, and a poor way to start a relationship.
Time invested in a respectful pitch process is time well invested.
Align and Trust Stakeholders
We rarely meet a Marketer who is not anxious about the (often limited) time they have available to undertake the review process.
One of the greatest inhibitors to adhering to the pitch timetable is corralling stakeholders to attend meetings, be they be internal or meeting with the prospective Agencies.
Early in the process, the key stakeholders’ diaries need to be aligned. Inevitably unforeseen circumstances, be they business or personal, will preclude the attendance of all stakeholders to all meetings. This should not be cause to disrupt the entire schedule. Respect in your colleagues’ ability to make sound business decisions in the absence of others should preclude disruption.
We were once involved in an Agency review where a close relative of the Head of Marketing passed away. That person had the trust in the capability of the panel to continue in her absence.
If panel members are not capable of making decisions in the absence of other stakeholders, perhaps they should not be on the panel.
Provide a Clear Scope of Work
Enth Degree advocates a fair remuneration agreement to ensure that Marketers achieve a supplier arrangement that ensures delivery of all services required from that Agency.
Key is a clear scope of work for which candidates can formulate a fee proposal that addresses all of a potential client’s requirements.
Marketers appoint an Agency for their ideas, and leave them for poor service. Often that poor service is as a result of work demands that are out of scope, but not recognised by clients as such. This will inevitably lead to a breakdown in a relationship.
The Enth Degree cost database ensures that our clients achieve the most cost effective fee arrangement with their Agency suppliers, but ensures fairness for both parties.
Don’t look for a Mercedes with a Holden budget.
Align on Agency Feedback
Your contact with candidate Agencies will be necessarily minimal during the pitch process. We say necessary, as experience tells us that Agencies will strive for as much contact as possible during the process to highlight their capabilities.
While we respect the Agencies’ desire to “bond” with a potential new client it can lead to an uneven playing field.
It is therefore not feasible to offer extended contact with candidate Agencies. As time is limited, all contact should be meaningful, therefore at briefing, workshops and any other interactions, ensure that feedback is consistent.
Mixed messages can lead to confusion, and the Agency ultimately presenting off target recommendations.
In a recent pitch presentation, we took this alignment to the next level, with Agencies excused from the room while a consolidated response and list of questions was prepared and then delivered.
Aligned feedback will generate a more valuable response from all candidates.
Close the Loop
Service Agreements are necessarily wordy. They are legal documents to ensure both parties respect and abide by the outcome of a successful pitch. Consequently, lawyers are a necessity to ensure that the terms and conditions are captured as agreed.
However, this step can inhibit the process, despite strict adherence to a process timeline.
It is critical to develop the Service Agreement in parallel with the pitch process to prevent a process blockage that can see Agencies commencing without a signed Agreement.
While in the vast majority this is acceptable, we are aware of a situation where the successful Agency increased their trading terms prior to the client signing the Agreement. Despite protestations from the client, they were told “we have changed our company policy, and you have not signed therefore the increase extended to you!” Not a great way to start a relationship!
Develop Service Agreements in parallel with the pitch process.
Pitching is a Last Resort
We recently wrote an article identifying that a competitive pitch is not always the best solution.
While often a pitch may be the result of a soon to expire contract, it is often the case that the market review was born out of dissatisfaction with the Agency service and/or output.
Like all partnerships, the Marketer / Agency relationship is subject to significant pressure points. Like a marriage guidance counsellor, we prefer reconciliation to divorce.
The Agency often has significant intelligence reserves, with an historic knowledge of the client’s communications, unmatched internally where the client has suffered a high turnover in marketing talent. (Of course the high rotation in Agency talent in some Agencies will contradict this observation.)
With a new Agency comes a new learning curve, for both parties, thereby adding further pressure to the Marketer’s day to day demands.
Before you take the next step to a competitive Agency pitch, a 360° Service Diagnostic Review may identify basic issues within the existing relationship than can be addressed to put things back on track.
Considering reviewing your Agency before you review the Agency marketplace.
If you are considering reviewing your Agency we would love to discuss the above insights, and the services we offer to ensure a thorough and successful Agency evaluation process.