What B2B brands should know about the pitch process
George Sanders of Earnest offers brands his tips for choosing the right B2B agency.
Don't fall for pretty, polished visuals – interrogate their way of thinking. / Kobu Agency
If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re in need of a new agency and you’re researching how to go about it. There’s shockingly little information out there for something that very few people are taught to do.
Given the investment needed (monetary and temporal) from both the client and the agency, it’s nuts that this remains an undefined and unregulated necessity (more on that later).
With that said, here is some proper guidance on running a B2B pitch.
To pitch or not to pitch?
Firstly, ask yourself, why do you want to run a pitch, and are you prepared for a pitch process?
For many people, pitching has a glamorous image. Think Don Draper blowing cigarette smoke into your face and the slow mechanical tick of slides changing. But the truth is that, often, it requires a tedious level of briefing and information management, scheduling and calendar organization, stakeholder wrangling, and communication.
Enticing agencies usually comes down to two options. The suitability of each depends on the scale and value of the work needed:
A tailored proposal: a playback on the brief, some demonstration of the agency’s knowledge, a possible approach, and finally their process, costs/timings, and case studies.
A full pitch requiring original strategy/creative: a specific and original response to a real/sample brief with a limited time to deliver a playback of their understanding, insights, their recommended solution, original ideas, and full SOW for development, production and delivery.
Keep reading for a mystery third option (exciting, I know, right?)
The pitch is often the obvious approach, but in many cases, a full creative/strategic pitch with original work and thinking can be unnecessary and often not representative of the work or relationship you’ll end up with. So, before we tackle the pitch process and tips, we’ll explore the risks and drawbacks in pitching.
The point of a pitch is to help brands understand what an agency is capable of. However, it’s not real.
A two-week burst of activity to simulate a (normally) two-to-three-month process is more about the experience, luck and theater than it is about how an agency works. It’s why many agencies employ (openly or secretly) pitch-specific people/teams that understand the performative nature of a pitch, meaning the response you get is more demonstrative of their ability to pitch – not necessarily their ability to meet your business needs.
The reality is that agencies that physically and financially invest the most in pitching are often most likely to win. But given that the average pitch costs an agency around £30-60k in billable time, it’s a gamble many aren’t able to afford.
Another risk is your stakeholder teams’ ability to effectively review strategy and creative. This can be tough when it comes to regular project work, but there’s even more at stake (for the agencies at least) when it comes to pitching.
Too often, stakeholders can be wooed by their system-one responses to favor polished pictures, snappy headlines, and glamorous videos and animations, rather than stepping back and interrogating the thinking that went into them.
There’s a risk that some stakeholders who are further away from creative processes will favor responses that look like a finished product but haven’t been finalized.
There are certainly great benefits to pitching, too: getting a better sense of the people you’d be working with; seeing how an agency tackles a specific problem; being able to compare agencies based on original work rather than previous; being able to use the pitch work itself as the basis for a required project.
Agency credentials prior to the pitch should do at least 75% of the work in telling if they’re the right agency for you. It’s less about ‘can’ the agency do this job and more about ‘which’ agency can do the job. The missing 25% is about discovering which you prefer.
Preference is usually a mixture of competency, chemistry and originality. Given their creds, you should know that they can do the job. The pitch should focus on the people you’ll be working with and the thinking they’re capable of.
The mystery third option
At Earnest, we’ve seen great results from the ‘creative thinking pitch’. Instead of requiring finished visuals and plans (the execution), this approach puts more emphasis and value on thinking (strategy and creative), collaboration, and responding to specific feedback.
This results in a far more streamlined process for both parties (requiring fewer hours out of peoples’ diaries) and fewer distractions (i.e. pretty visuals) but still, an opportunity to see original work from the agency, and a means to do a chemistry test in a live environment.
Choosing an agency is as much an emotional decision as it is a rational one. A pitch process can only do so much in showing you what they’re capable of within a manufactured environment. The rest is a combination of preference and luck.
But where you can make a difference is the impact the process makes to everyone involved; with talent shortages and increasing ESG concerns, it’s a good opportunity to reconsider old ways and look at what’s really required v what’s commonly accepted.
Finally (unpopular opinion alert), if you do indeed decide a creative or strategic pitch with original thinking is the way to go, then it’s worth considering paying for. If you’re looking for a true partner for the long term, paying them fairly for their time shows you understand the value and commitment this process demands.
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Earnest is the award-winning B2B marketing agency that’s chasing out the humdrum in London and New York.Find out more