The simple, honest answer is that pitches should be a mechanism for brands to find the right agency partners to activate work on their behalf. But the more incisive question to ask is: how do both clients and agencies get the most out of the process? After all, brand/agency relationships should be marriages with the longevity to solve business and communication challenges, rather than a succession of quick romps.
It’s for this reason that both agencies and clients should properly invest their time and resources in the pitch process, so they get it right (on both sides).
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to collaborate with many clients who understand the value of the pitch process. These are people who offer focused, well-considered briefs – not laundry lists of ‘wants’ from different parts of their business with no common thread. What separates such clients is a willingness to brief you face-to-face, answer questions honestly, discuss potential routes in a tissue session and provide a realistic, indicative budget instead of a frustrating ‘you-tell-us’ approach. By investing their time up-front, come pitch day these clients will have the benefit of agencies presenting their best strategic and creative work to meet the business and communications goals.
Pitches become tricky and laborious with clients who find the process itself unwelcome and just want someone – anyone – to work for them. We’ll never know why they don’t put in the work, but by not valuing the process, they’re setting themselves up for failure. They will probably appoint an agency, but won’t get the best results and will more likely than not find themselves running another pitch process in the near future.
Clearly, investment of time from clients is important, but what can agencies do to achieve the best outcome?
In such a competitive marketplace, agencies can rarely be accused of lack of effort and time. Valuing the pitch process from the agency side is a matter of honesty.
This means being truly self-aware by not being afraid to pull out or refuse a pitch. Granted, it’s a tough decision, but for everyone’s sanity it can be essential. Pulling out isn’t a sign of weakness; clients will usually appreciate an agency’s honesty and the impetus it provides to make sure that every agency on the list has the potential to help them meet their communications goals.
How often do pitches go awry and someone says, “I didn’t think we were right for them anyway”?
So, why wait until hundreds of expensive agency hours are expended to finally be honest to ourselves? It’s madness and not a positive experiences for either client or agency. Always best to keep your powder dry for when the right brief does come along… and it will, time and time again.
The approach to pitching needs to be rethought by both parties. Clients should put in the time to engage agencies throughout, allied to a clear budget that focuses creative thinking. Agencies must be hyper-critical and ask themselves: Are we right for this brief? Can we do everything the client needs, within the proposed budget? Don’t be afraid to say no.
Richard Tompkins is managing director of W Communications