Brother Phil Jones Pitching

Perfect pitched Brother in tone

By The Drum, Administrator

July 10, 2008 | 11 min read

A proposed solution to the pitching problem

The phrase red rag to a bull comes to mind when asking agencies to debate the industry’s heavily-maligned pitch process. It seems that of all the problems faced by the marketing community, which includes procurement departments and TUPE, the pitch remains an itch that’s been impossible to scratch.

Until now, perhaps, as Brother UK’s sales and marketing director Phil Jones, pictured right, claims to have the answer.

It’s a bold claim, without question, but Jones doesn’t lack confidence or the track record to back it up.

After joining Brother in 1994 as a fax salesman, he soon found himself progressing through the business - via roles that included fax product manager, national sales manager and general manager.

In 2001, he was made the Japanese firm’s youngest-ever director and three years later was elevated to the Brother UK board. His role expanded further in 2005 when he took over responsibility for the firm’s marketing activity.

In recent years, his achievements have been marked by a string of personal accolades.

This year alone he has been listed in both Insider North West’s 42 under 42 feature and the 40 under 40 listing in Crain’s, as well as winning the OPI European Young Professional of the Year. When asked what his biggest achievements were during the process for each accolade, Jones continued to list the development of his own method for reviewing and finding marketing agencies.

Now a guest of the Marketeer Association, Jones is explaining his solution to a room full of sceptical agency bosses and putting over a compelling proposition.

“When I took over the marketing, I couldn’t understand why the pitch process took so long. It seemed strange to me that such a big decision was made for subjective reasons. It was something I needed to address.”

Over the next year, Jones and his team began developing a new system. He turned to The EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) Excellence Model – a framework designed to help organisations become more competitive. He says the method lent itself perfectly to the challenge of finding a new agency and set about adapting it to fit his needs.

Put simply, Jones’ method sets a number of criteria - as many as 50, but usually closer to 20 - and each agency is ranked against the various fields with a score between one and three.


“Every agency starts on a score of two for each criteria - this is what we expect as standard. We then mark them down to one, up to three or leave them as they are depending on how we feel they met our expectations,” he says.

Brother then weights each of the criteria, giving a value of between one and three to the categories relating to their level of importance to what Brother is looking for. The score and value are later multiplied to give a total for each category, all of which are accumulated at the end – ideally revealing a clear winner to take home the business.

For Brother UK’s advertising account the winner really was clear. Clear Marketing, to be precise. The Didsbury-based agency, which had been working on a project-by-project relationship with the client, was appointed to take over the account in April on a retained basis. In addition, Jones’ method was also put to good use for its PR and digital needs, resulting in the appointment of CityPress and Code Computerlove to handle each account, respectively.

The scoring takes place over a number of stages, designed to reduce the cycle time for what Jones describes as a “minimum fuss, maximum output” approach.

“We can whittle out very quickly whether an agency is in contention. We start off with a list of agencies that have expressed an interest, but what you have to remember is that we’ve been doing our research long before this stage. We know where you are as a business, what clients you’re working on, what work you’re producing for them, whether you’re growing or shrinking, what awards you’ve won, even what profit you’re making.

“So we’re able to skim a lot of agencies off from the outset. Then we look at whether you can share out shape. This is what we buy at - we’ll have an average cost per hour of ‘X’ and you’ll have to show whether you’re able to meet that. If you can’t, then there’s no point proceeding any further and our shortlist starts to come together.”

The next stage for Jones and his team is a familiarisation visit to the agency’s office. He jokes that this is the stage where agencies can “bring out the posh biscuits and order in the Starbucks”, but it’s another opportunity for the Brother team to suss out whether the agency is a serious contender.


“We go in to see the agency, meet the people who’ll be working on our account and see if they’re people we want to work with,” says Jones. “We also see whether we’re made to feel like we’re an account they want to win. If they don’t make much effort, we know they’re probably not serious about handling our business.”

Maybe Jones wasn’t joking about the Starbucks, after all. It’s clear he takes this initial visit seriously, issuing the warning: “Make no mistake, we are always scoring - even at this early stage.”

For the agencies that progress, next comes the pitch itself. Unlike the traditional method which sees the shortlisted firms given a brief to work on for a set period prior to the presentation, Brother’s method sees the final shortlist turn up on the pitch day having not seen a brief. The session, which takes between a half and full day to complete, sees all of the agencies presented with a brief - which Jones says is always relevant to the challenges the firm faces, although is not necessarily the brief the winning agency will later be given.

“We don’t want agencies sending in people who aren’t going to work on our business. We insist that people who attend on the day are the people that would be working on our business if their agency won the account.

“I’m sure agencies will do their research before they get there. It’s not difficult to type my name into a search engine and find out what sort of things I like and, if you do your homework, you can get a good idea of the kind of communications challenges Brother is facing too. However, by doing the pitch all in one day, on a brief that they have no prior warning on, we’re also able to see how this team works under pressure.”

Throughout the process, as Jones has indicated, the agencies are being scored and totals are being accumulated. The pitch day itself is no different and once it’s completed, Jones completes the final scoring. This where the salesman in Jones kicks in and he promptly turns to BAFO (Best and final offer). “It’s used in all tendering processes,” says Jones, “and allows us to turn to the final two competing agencies and squeeze out a better deal.”

Jones takes a lot of pride in his ability to drive a better deal and cites it as one of the key strengths of the method. Another of the key attributes, he argues, is the ability to pinpoint where the agencies have succeeded or fell down in the scoring.


“We can give specialist feedback. Agencies can see where they performed strongly and were we felt it was substandard. We can show them our own ranking system for each of the categories, too, so they could see precisely how the pitch was won. It might have been that they were very strong in categories that were of a lesser significance to us and were less strong in those that we considered vital. It allows for the agencies to continually improve, which will hopefully be of benefit for when pitching for other business.”

Jones is confident that his method has found the answer. He believes it cuts the time everyone has to invest, it helps him find the best fit agency, reduces the cycle time and is a completely transparent process. In addition, he believes the ability to weight the criteria as vital and allows him to get better value.

However, there are some that would argue that the process lacks the softer touch. Indeed, one of the questions posed from the floor at the Marketeer Association meeting is about relationships. Jones had referred to the agency/client relationship as a marriage and in his retort, he admits he wouldn’t consider using the process to find a wife, but defends those that might question its practically in a relationship-driven industry.

“We do cover the softer aspects, such as whether we actually like the people we’re with and whether the agency is a good cultural fit for us. For instance, personality is very important. We use humour a lot, just in our day to day work, so we have those criteria listed and, while I’m not going to reveal our weighting system, it’s safe to presume the process factors in a wide range of criteria.”

But does the system work every single time? Surely the mathematical solution by which the result is achieved could be wrong...

“If we get two agencies that are within five percent of one another,” Jones explains, “we will vigorously and rigorously go over the data and make sure we filled it in correct and that we’ve got our scores right. This may clarify the situation, or we take it as an indication that we have two agencies that are capable of doing a great job for us, which again helps us to drive for better value and factor in some of our instincts about who we’d like to work with.”

After the appointment, Jones works closely with his agencies to ensure that the process isn’t let down by poor briefs and poor work.

“We’re a very hands on client. We know our market very well and we’re very clear about what we need to do. Bad work is often produced as a result of an awful verbal brief, so we’ve become very good at sharing our vision with our agencies. If you can get to that stage, they almost live the brand experience for you.

I also use something called Connect, where we get the three most senior people working on our account – in our current case, the three MDs of the CityPress, Code and Clear – together to review how the business is doing. We share the outcomes, the problems and collaboratively come up with a plan that’s agency neutral and the best possible solution.”


There’s no doubt Jones has found a method that works for him, but should other marketing teams at other client companies be using the system?

“Absolutely,” enthuses Jones. “Anyone can use it. It’s just a case of identifying what’s important to the company’s marketing needs and weighting the criteria appropriately. You just have to decide ‘what are we trying to do?’ It will cut the cycle time for you and for the agencies. And you’ll come out of it with a better financial deal.”

Brother Phil Jones Pitching

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