How can B2B brands make sure they choose the right marketing agency?
Responding to pitches can be overwhelming. Here to help, George Sanders of Earnest provides tips for making the right decision about what agency to go with.
Pitching isn't an easy process - for either party. Here, B2B agency Earnest lays out how brands can get it right / Maranda Vandergriff
I recently wrote about what brands should know about the B2B pitch process, covering its benefits, risks, and pitfalls. But assuming a pitch is the right approach for finding the right agency, what should the process look like?
Once you’ve received credentials from agencies, you shouldn’t really need more than three or four agencies maximum to proceed to pitch stage (if it helps, picture multiple agencies sending you multiple emails and calling you every day after the pitch to ask for feedback). Here are some things to consider.
Once you’ve selected agencies to pitch, you need a water-tight brief. The quality of the brief will 100% dictate the quality of the work and the success of the agency placement. Be sure to give agencies the opportunity to interrogate the brief and ask their own questions.
In the pitch brief, set realistic and empathetic timings; realistic in the sense these things always take longer than expected (particularly when you and your stakeholders are juggling pitch requirements around already-packed calendars), and empathetic in the understanding of the commitment an agency is going to make in terms of (likely) unpaid resource on top of current workloads, as well as your own team’s time and availability.
However tempting it is to send out a pitch brief the day before you go on holiday for two weeks, please don’t. It means the agency loses the critical opportunity to ask questions and flag issues.
The value of work-in-progress meetings
Once the agencies are briefed and work is underway, an overlooked and undervalued step is the work-in-progress (WIP) or ‘tissue’ meeting - an opportunity for the agency to share some early thoughts and directions with you and the team.
There are multiple benefits to this; it saves the agency from going in the wrong direction with the benefit of your customer/market knowledge; it’s another opportunity to test the chemistry; it allows the agency to learn how you and the team review and feedback on work; and it gets to a better answer, faster.
The big day (pitch presentations)
The pitch: what we’ve all been working to. But all too often, when not given proper care and preparation, it can be a strange, exhausting and deflating affair for all involved. Ensure firstly that enough time is allocated; rarely is one hour long enough to cover the whole response with enough time for meaningful discussion. Allocate two hours, and finish early if required.
Just as frustrating is when the business’ attendees don’t participate, stay off-mic and -camera, or arrive late and leave early. Not only is this distracting and unfulfilling for the agency, but the attendees are missing crucial opportunities to test the agency’s experience, expertise and chemistry.
So, lay down some rules to those attending to be visible and vocal. Ensure that all stakeholders are acquainted with the process so far, as well as the agency inputs and outputs, and next steps. It makes for an uncomfortable session when they’re questioning elements that were included in the original brief.
Although it’s tempting to schedule all pitches for the same day for the sake of calendar management, you’ll find a steep drop in attention and engagement from stakeholders as the day goes on. The final agencies will suffer unfairly. So, don’t.
Making a decision
This should be a straightforward part of the process, but it rarely is. This is an unusual situation to be in for most stakeholders; many won’t be 100% sure on what or how to evaluate what they’re reviewing.
Is it the agency that wowed you the quickest, the one that presented the ‘most stuff’, the ones that challenged the original brief, the ones that presented work closest in line with your expectations? Ensure that your team is clear on the evaluation criteria and are able to separate their objective feedback from the subjective (as they would with reviewing marketing creative). “I don’t like...” is never as valuable as “Our customers will think...”.
Some good rules of thumb for evaluating strategy and creative: is it on-brief? Will it resonate with your target audience? Does it demonstrate originality and/or innovation? Is it on brand (or does it push the guidelines)? And, only then: what do you think of it?
This is where having a smaller number of agencies to review is key. It’s difficult, time-intensive, and difficult to find consensus. That only increases with scale.
Don’t underestimate the time, effort and mental bandwidth needed to run a successful (and stress-free) pitch. And don’t be afraid to streamline the traditional approach to ease the burden on your stakeholders’ time and the volume of work the agencies need to create. Start as you mean to go on.
Content by The Drum Network member:
Earnest is the award-winning B2B marketing agency that’s chasing out the humdrum in London and New York.Find out more