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Why brands should know how to run the right pitch

Lots of articles have been written about the dastardliness of agency pitches. I agree with them all. Just kidding. Truth is, some pitches are OK, even dare I say, enjoyable? But others are terrible experiences for all involved.

I think that pitches can be invigorating for agencies. I’ve always loved a good pitch. If your agency works well together, it is a chance to flex your collaboration muscle and bring the best thinking to the table. As a creative, I love that you are unencumbered by institutional knowledge. You don’t know what you don’t know, so the sky’s the limit. Some of the best work I’ve ever done was pitch work. That, by the way, is why creatives also hate pitches. They do the best work of their careers. They get really excited about the thinking...they start to imagine the shoot...and then they lose the pitch. Or, more frequently, they win the pitch on the merits of their thinking, but then the idea hits reality and turns into a shell of its pitch glory.

An agency should never pitch a piece of business unless it is willing to PITCH the piece of business. There are no half measures. Either you’re in it to win it or you’re wasting everyone’s time.

That’s the danger of pitching. You have to become invested in it. You have to think you’re going to win it. And if you lose it, especially lose a few in a row, it can become incredibly disheartening. For that reason, we are pretty picky about the RFP’s we respond to.

Which brings me to the title of the article. Brands need to run the right pitch.

We are a smaller agency, and are happy to take on smaller assignments so long as the brand seems like a good fit for us. The problem is that often times, the pitch process is onerous, even for smaller brands.

We recently received an RFP for a brand that we really like. The RFP was well-written and outlined a thoughtful pitch process. We were excited. We asked a few questions (including budget projections for 2018) and our excitement waned. This was an exhaustive RFP with a pitch round for 2-3 campaign ideas and media plans, etc. For no money!

I don’t understand how this happens.

Maybe they don’t understand the investment that goes into a pitch of that magnitude? Maybe they want to act like the big boys? Maybe they want to “steal” thinking through an arduous pitch process? Maybe they want to make sure agencies are willing to invest in their business?

Those are all bad.

Run the right pitch! Running a pitch with this level of commitment from agencies, with so little reward on the back end, only disqualifies your best options. If you don’t have a multi-million dollar budget, don’t hurt your chances of getting the best agency to work on your business.

Small budgets can attract great agencies, but you have to run the right pitch. If you’re a brand you think is attractive, but you don’t have a ton of money, don’t run a pitch! Approach an agency you particularly admire and see if they can work for that spend. OR, if you really want to run a pitch, have your RFP consist of a creds deck, and base your decision on capabilities and chemistry.

When you have little money and undergo an expansive and involved search, you’re only filtering out the good agencies; the agencies that see the flaw in what you’re doing. You are attracting the agencies desperate for business, or too green to know the pitfalls of the process.

As a point of contrast, I’ll tell you about a meeting I have on Monday.

A few weeks ago one of my agency’s true passion brands called us up out of the blue. They were very upfront. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they admired our work. They gave us their budget and asked if we could work within it. Because we loved the brand, and because they were running the right pitch, we were excitedly able to say yes. We present their new brand campaign to them on Monday. And it’s a win-win. They’re happy they are able to work with an agency they admire and we’re happy we’re able to do great work with a brand we love. That is a feeling that can only happen when you take the time to run the right pitch.

Joe Parrish is partner and chief creative officer at The Variable. He tweets @joeparrish

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