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How to spot (and avoid) the phantom pitch

It’s accepted practice in the UK that experiential agencies pitch for free. We’re in one of the very few industries in the world where anything is done without money changing hands. In the past 12 months, no less than 20 of the new business briefs we were invited to pitch on never happened – they were pulled by the client for varying reasons and at great expense to the agencies involved. Time is money after all.

So why does it happen? Well there certainly isn’t one unifying reason – if there was, it’d be easy to spot the pitches to steer clear of. However the longer you’re in the game, the clearer the signs become and in the interest of helping the industry mature, here are the top causes of the “Phantom Pitch”…

Who has the power to say yes?

Don’t assume the client that invites you in to receive a brief is the person with the power to sign it off. They might pat you on the back after the pitch of the century but then they’ll be off to pitch it on your behalf to the person with the purse strings. Do you trust other people to pitch your work!?

Other agency influence

We’re all competing for the same marketing budget after all and when there’s a number of incumbent agencies from different channels sat at the table, you can guarantee they won’t be rooting for the new experiential agency to be stealing their lunch. Get your elbows out at the all-agency meeting, early doors!

Incompatible creative

Above the line creative rules the roost – that’s the status quo and every other channel works with it. Unfortunately the fantastical vision of perfection through brand consumption is hard to translate when you’re creating real life experiences. The reality is this lipstick isn’t actually going to turn you into a supermodel, sorry madam. Some creative isn’t compatible with experiential so the brief just won’t work.

Surely they’re not just trying to look busy?

No, surely clients don’t write briefs just to occupy their time! Ridiculous.

This isn’t a finite list by any stretch but it’s a few of the regulars. So knowing this, what can we do as an industry to ensure we’re not wasting our time, resources and cash as regularly in the future? Let’s face it, the utopia where the whole industry makes a stand and agrees they won’t pitch for free is a long way off.

Without question, agencies need to be given a more integral involvement in brand strategy from the outset.

Have some standards

Don’t pitch on any brief that isn’t going to make you rich, motivated and famous. Set yourself a minimum budget size that you’ll work on. Obviously there’ll be exceptions but if you set a limit it makes it very easy just to tell a client ‘no’. It’s a liberating feeling and they’ll respect your agency more for it. Running around after £10k briefs actually costs you money.

Qualify, Qualify, Qualify

It sounds completely obvious but make sure you qualify every opportunity. Create a ‘brief scorecard’ and rate the quality of the opportunity. Ask questions like ‘How important is this to the business?’, ‘Who is the eventual decision maker’, ‘How many agencies are pitching’. And by the way, if you’re competing against more than 2 other agencies, don’t bother.

If it doesn’t feel right, walk

Never forget that your time is your money. If you’ve been to the briefing, got a negative vibe, the client doesn’t communicate with you and give you the information you need to be successful, walk away. Never be subservient, never look desperate. Politely decline and go and concentrate on an opportunity that feels right.

The experiential industry needs more respect but that’ll only come when the agencies involved deserve it.

Dan Hall is the business development director of iD Experiential

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