How are UK indie agencies cushioning the impact on staff of pitching for new business?
UK leaders from media, creative, in-housing and social indie agencies share how they’re trying to reduce the burden of pitching for new business on their colleagues.
Pitching takes a toll on agency staff - what can British indie agencies do? / Unsplash
Bringing in new business is vital for indie agencies, whether they specialize in social, design, creative or media. But the classic pitch process is growing more and more costly for agencies. For example, a recent MediaSense survey found that 87% of media agency execs thought pitching was “excessively time- and cost-exhaustive.”
Though they’re typically smaller than their network counterparts, indie agencies aren’t powerless to promote a better way of doing business. So, we asked 11 British indie agency leaders how they were adapting
How do you solve a problem like... pitching for new business without working staff into the ground?
Jessica Gibb, chief marketing officer, St Luke’s: “The Pitch Positive Pledge has helped to reframe the conversation around timelines and expectations. However, to avoid burnout, we have a responsibility to set parameters: Is this a creative, a financial or a relationship opportunity? If at least one applies, then the next question is: Do we have the capacity for this without compromising our people?
“We involve the whole team from the get-go. Collaboration, a supportive culture, time efficiency and clear boundaries help to cut out unnecessary hours; preventing overwork and staff burnout. While nothing pulls the agency together more than a big, juicy challenge, pitching must also be fun.“
David Sequeira, chief exec, MI Media: “Don’t pitch hard, pitch clever. It’s pointless pitching 100 times if you only win once. Improve how you qualify leads, and you should be able to boost conversion and reduce the number of pitches. Use proper scoring criteria and don’t pitch if it scores low. In a recession it’s hard, but if losses mount up teams lose motivation. Without people who are energized for pitches, you’ll lose anyway, playing the numbers game is a false economy. Taking this approach people won’t feel run down by losing and will work hard on pitches you do go for.“
Gareth Davies, chief exec, Leagas Delaney: “We’re in the business of new business”, as the saying goes. Few agencies would disagree but plainly, not all are equally set up for success. It is hardly surprising that the agencies with the most impressive new business records also tend to also have the best processes and, arguably, the strongest cultures. They understand that success is achieved by bedding the ‘business of new business’ into an agency, not simply bolting it on to the day job and hoping for the best. And in that, comes a respect for the opportunity but also for the talent that delivers on it.
Louisa O’Connor, managing director, Seen Presents: “As an agency dedicated to seeking out new client opportunities – we have to pitch. It can be hard to say no, as you feel that you are not only saying no to that opportunity but to future opportunities. To avoid pitch burnout we sometimes have to say no – and there can be power in saying no if you do it respectfully and with rationale.
“If we do pitch then it’s good to agree on an expectation of output to ensure there is a level playing field but so you don’t overdeliver on requirements and can protect your team’s time.“
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Jamie Williams, managing partner, Isobel: “Pitch wisely. The world can seem chaotic at times, with new business opportunities coming from all angles, and appearing in all shapes and sizes. It can take time just to understand exactly what the opportunity is, and how you (as the agency) can add value. But this groundwork is vital and it’s crucial to judge with both head and heart. Opportunities can look exciting on paper, but sometimes, they aren’t always what they seem. It’s impossible to half-pitch. So sometimes it’s best to pass up opportunities that aren’t in the sweet spot, to focus time on winning pitches that will make a real difference to your agency, creatively and commercially.”
Amy Claridge, head of account management, Rankin Creative: “Pitching is not the best way to show your strategic and creative capabilities and there are so many limitations in terms of the brief and time given. When we are pitching, we always ask ourselves three questions: can we win, and do we really want it? Are we the right fit? Will it make our business better if we are successful? We also continue to ask these questions throughout and if at any point it doesn’t feel right, we should not be afraid to withdraw. It is about getting the right balance of head and heart and making decisions that are not just based on finances.“
Cecilia de la Viesca, joint managing director, new business and marketing, Passion Digital: “We have a small dedicated marketing team (two plus myself, MD), with all the necessary resources; templates, case studies, experience and strategic savoir fair to be able to put together 60% of all pitch decks, including admin and project management, with the rest requiring input by the specialists - who need to keep servicing clients to a high standard. To maintain a healthy work-life balance we allow for downtime after completing a pitch, to allow the people involved to rest and recharge, but this is only possible if you have several individuals that are senior enough to work on pitches (which we do now, but didn’t a year ago). In our case, declining to pitch is ALWAYS an option; prioritization based on the client’s values and fit with our agency’s expertise is vital. We don’t pitch unless is ’perfect’.“
Matt Iliffe, chief executive officer, Beyond: “Firstly, Beyond follows the Pitch Positive Pledge, a fair play commitment by both client and agency, recognizing the investment in pitches. A pitch is an investment in solving clients’ problems, and it’s important the challenge is played on a level playing field and each agency is given an equal opportunity to win the business. Pitching is a way of life at an agency, so we don’t reinvent the wheel each time. We build our pitches from a proven tool kit, allowing us to spend our investment solving client problems, and demonstrating the value of our approach. Going into a pitch prepared, knowing that much of the pitch can be assembled quickly is also better for our staff. It takes some of the pressure off the team, enabling them to be more creative and our solutions more valuable.“
Ben Foster, managing partner of digital, The Kite Factory: “For years every pitch I worked on involved lots of late nights in the run-up to the meeting and presenting fuelled with caffeine and adrenaline. However, I have since learned that new business, like all projects, is about process, organization, and communication. If everybody fully understands their responsibilities, key deadlines and expected behaviors then it can be an enjoyable experience that fits around BAU responsibilities. Finally, and importantly, it isn’t just about the pitch team but the wider agency who can step up and take BAU client work away from those pitching to create bandwidth.”
James Hacking, founder, Socially Powerful: “You can and do have to be selective. You can’t waste time pitching for things where the match isn’t great, you don't have the credentials or it would be a struggle to deliver. If there’s nothing else on the table, go for it, but if you’re pitching for everything just because you need the revenue, the pitches you do stand a good chance of winning will suffer as a consequence.
“You need to have a good team in the agency leadership, and you need to listen if they feel like the opportunity isn’t right. Forcing pitches where you’re continually losing, is a demoralizing process.“
Reckon you know better? Give me a shout via email@example.com. If you like, I can clue you in on next week’s debate.