Nobody wants to run a bad pitch. Life’s too short and it can be a huge cost to everyone involved. And yet we see it often. 

Big things are at play with a review often coinciding with a brand going in a new direction – be it with a new product, or strategy – or it happens when the pitch really hits the fan.  

Why then, is there such a rush to get an agency search over and done with? For something so important, it should be questioned and planned out. 

Fine, brand senior teams don’t especially want to hear that it’ll take months on end to have someone responsible for something so intrinsic in place. Especially if there’s already been a delay caused by a relationship breakdown. But what we’re proposing is taking time to save time early on. 

To be clear, an agency search should be about intelligence, not speed.

That doesn’t make it any less intimidating. There are a huge number of agencies out there, so knowing where to start can be daunting. It’s a decision that’s nerve-wracking for marketers, and we understand why for some it becomes a case of doing enough to get by. From talking to a range of brands and agencies, we’ve heard stories of brand marketers being handled a pitch and their main aim being to not cock it up.  

That’s the negative. The positive is that there’s an enormous opportunity to be had. All that’s required is a more thorough investigation. 

Understand that gone are the days when putting together an agency shortlist requires some recommendations made over a quick round of golf. Gone too is an awards shortlist handing you the right agency names for your brand. The marketplace is too complicated for that. We’ve moved on and for good reason.

What agencies offer can be more specialist now. What worked for one brand might not work for you, because of the subtlety of their problem, not to mention subtlety of the solution. Let’s get smart about what agencies are – they’re partners, not suppliers. Realising that early on will sober up your decision.

It’s also not just about an agency’s capabilities, but their character too. This will make all the difference between an agency appointment being an investment that pays off and an expensive waste of time. 

So, how can you ensure you’re getting a truer picture of an agency during a process? Below, we’ve listed some points essential to you finding the right agency. 

Are you asking the agencies the right questions?

  • Does your brief ask the right questions? Often the agencies you’ll meet are natural problem-solvers and will ultimately work better when collaborating with you on the diagnosis. Don’t see the brief as ironclad. If an agency wants to question it, or even take a step back and rewrite it with you, don’t shut down their curiosity if there’s value in it
  • Are you getting to know them as well as their work? Is there enough of a focus on chemistry in your process? These are partners you’ll be spending a great deal of time with
  • Can you work together? Have a conversation about the logistics of the relationship. Will your systems of working – deadline management, payment structure, how you like to run your meetings

Accommodate the agency

  • Think about having the agency pitch at their office. You’ll get them on their A-game, and get a sense of the agency identity too. Such a simple gesture will put them at ease – no bad thing when drawing out the best they have to offer  
  • Make sure the agency is able to have its best people in the room. Be flexible over diaries and try to accommodate them. That means no pitching over Christmas! 
  • Reward initiative. If an agency asks a question that comes from their research, then don’t reward the entire agency pool with the answer. We’ve heard of procurement insisting that every agency has the same information. That’s fine – at the start. But if you ensure you have a system in place where tenacity is rewarded, and the agency will be certain to bring plenty of it

How deep do you dig?

  • Try to escape the showmen and the theatrics of the pitch. Think of a process that accommodates the introverts, the thinkers, and not just the razzle dazzle 
  • Be sure what you’re buying will last the course of the relationship. Insist that those who do the work are in the room, but bring the same people from your side too. The pitch meeting should be no one’s first meeting

Know what you want

  • Don’t just accrue agencies for the sake of it. Ensure that every agency on a longlist or shortlist is in contention and capable of winning the business
  • Don’t necessarily include the incumbent unless you intend to consider them. It’ll save them hassle and time, and will help your decision
  • Whittle down the list. Don’t be afraid to cut agencies from the process. You’re under no obligation to bring X number to the shortlist, or to the pitch. Don’t be ruthless, just be honest

The above is distilled from what we have seen works best and produces the most successful brand-agency relationships. It comes from conversations with both the client team and the account management team, and their experiences working on a number of pitches of different disciplines and demands. It is symptomatic of how we like to work, and how brands and agencies do too. 

If you’re interested in hearing more, or want our input into your own process then drop either Ben Somerset-How or Eddie Frame a line. 

Life’s too short to run a bad pitch.

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