‘Demanding RFIs, unclear RFPs, unfair deadlines’: why media agencies are avoiding pitches

Media agency

Advertisers are likely failing to get the best responses from potential media agency partners by not sufficiently defining what they are looking for and refusing to share details around the selection process.

That tight timescales and lack of transparency in the pitching process are bemoaned by agencies is perhaps an unsurprising finding from recent research conducted by ID Comms, in partnership with industry trade body the 4As.

The qualitative and quantitative research involved agencies from major advertising holding companies and the independent sector, which, in total, handle media billings of more than $55bn.

It comes at the end of a year that was dubbed 'Mediapalooza Part 2' for the sheer volume of business that went under review in a matter of weeks. Major advertisers including Shell, Asda, HSBC, Procter & Gamble, Mars, Coca-Cola, Ford, Fiat, and Sky all reviewed their media arrangements in quick succession.

Just recently, L'Oreal's £135m European account went up for tender, while agencies have been left in the lurch after McDonald's abruptly halted its £100m media review in the UK.

Reflecting on this year, the research has sought to highlight to advertisers – and their procurement teams – where inefficiencies have led media agency executives to either deprioritize pitches or walk away altogether.

The RFI stage

The survey’s respondents said the RFI phase was typically “too demanding”. Specifically, the agency leaders lamented the significant resource that often goes into creating a video submission, and noted the level of detail that’s required on Master Service Agreements (MSA) added “significant upfront resource requirements” that could be better used at a later stage.

The RFP stage

Agencies were equally quick to complain about the “unclear or generic, lengthy RFP briefs”. They suggested RFPs that have focused questions surrounding “thought leadership” on specific business challenges, for example, would better provide insight on capabilities and expertise.

Chemistry sessions

This stage of the process was found to often lack proper focus, compounded by a lack of communication on what was expected. In some cases, clients wanted a working-session, others expected a progress check-in and some only want to gauge agency culture and personalities.

Agency respondents were also concerned about the increasing number of live meetings and the depth of content required at each session, often needing to be coordinated across multiple markets.

Final presentations

This was found to be the “peak pain point” for agencies. Though it (justifiably) required the highest level of senior management engagement and resource investment of the entire pitch process, agencies said there were too many issues around the tight timelines often set.

“Pitches are a big drain on the resources of a media agency, which is often managing multiple reviews simultaneously,” said Tom Denford, North America chief executive at ID Comms.

“While agencies have gotten better in recent years at prioritizing the pitches they compete for and being more focused with their resources, more discipline on the advertiser side would enable agencies to be more strategic and do better work. A clearer pitch process enables all participating agencies to present their best talent, resources and ideas to the advertiser. This in turn creates more business value for the advertiser.”

Also running right through the process are concerns over the issue of media pricing, which respondents said was often “sub-optimal”.

The media pricing exercises in a typical media pitch (for example, run by a media auditor), was highlighted as an “unproductive element” of the pitch process and was “often managed inconsistently and lacked clarity” according to agency leaders.

“Advertisers need to think deeply about how they run their pitches as they look to get the very best out of the agency community,” added Matt Kasindorf, SVP management Services, 4A’s.

“This is a competitive industry and everyone wants to show their best face but agencies need clarity on the advertiser's goals and objectives if they are to identify the more appropriate solutions.”

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