Is Pitching Really Enriching?
I know, I know, here we go again. Yet another post moaning about the pitch process...when will agencies learn that it’s the client’s prerogative to make pitching a regular, tortuous, uneven, long-winded, un-natural event?
Having made in excess of 150 pitches since we set Access up 13 years ago (and seven in the last eight weeks), I think we have the right to pass comment on what is the most controversial part of the client/ agency relationship.
Plenty has already been said, written and reported on the subject, but I thought it would be therapeutic to have my own say given how exasperated I have been of certain recent pitch processes.
For instance, one process we engaged in recently lasted nearly FIVE months, beginning with the dreaded PQQ (Pre Qualification Questionnaire).
PQQ’s: The good and the not so good
The good (and proper PQQ – that requests information on what you have done previously)
those that ask for a summary of your relevant credentials, your credit and insurance status and your company structure in no more than four sides of A4 – all of which is perfectly normal and acceptable (taking a day or so to complete)
The not so good (the PQQ that acts as an ITT* – requesting forward-looking material)
A 28 page PQQ requesting your inside-leg measurement, a detailed business plan for the next 25 years and ‘initial creative ideas’. Initial creative ideas? What does that mean? (To us, an initial creative idea is the nub of some creative genius, shown as a bunch of indecipherable scribbles on an A3 art pad – not sure we’d get away with that in ‘procurement’ terms? *(ITT = Invitation to Tender)
We should have known what was to come. Five months later, thousands of pounds in resource and of course we didn’t win!
But how do you know when to ‘jump ship’? When should we have said ‘enough is enough’? We are a business that makes money out of our ideas, surely we're entitled to ask people to pay for them! But unless the industry decides to come with us on this, then it will never happen.
Earlier this year ISBA (the voice of British Advertisers) and the IPA (who we recently joined) launched a Pitch Best Practice website: - with the aim of ‘invigorating the pitch debate’ and to offer advice to both clients and agencies.
So, what is the ideal pitch process?
How do you ensure you get the best out of agencies pitching for your business before, during and (most importantly) after the pitch is won?
The ideal pitch would consist of 5 key questions and shouldn’t take more than 6-8 weeks (in its entirety) as follows:
1. Do you really need to go to pitch?
Ask yourself, do we really need to pitch this out? What's wrong with our incumbent agency/roster – wouldn’t it be better to resolve any issues we have with them first?
2. Who should be on the pitch?
If it’s a new product launch, or relationships have reached their natural conclusion then a pitch it is, but who should be invited? How do you choose who should be on it?
You’ll have had plenty of interest from agencies promising the earth, sending reams of reasons why you should meet with them. Well if they didn’t generate impact at the time they arrived, then you shouldn’t consider them. Consider agencies whose work you like, who work in your sector, who provide the services you need ‘in-house’ (rather than outsourced which becomes more expensive and uncontrollable) and above all choose people you like!
3. What do we want the winning agency to deliver in the next 12-24 months?
Consider what the agency is going to be doing for you beyond the initial project and include elements of this in the briefing document. They may be great at the pitch, but is there strength in depth? (e.g. can they work as effectively on the trade marketing (sell in) as well as the consumer campaign?)
4. How are we going to score it?
Most clients have some kind of scoring system, but I would like to hope that the following are a pre-requisite to any pitch-scoring model
It’s a service industry after all - so personal relationships will be paramount to the success. The pitch process should involve an element of face-face meeting/Q&A before the pitch date. Understanding the personalities and personal skills of the agency team should carry significant weight when making your final selection (an agency pitch team should consist of the main day-day contacts)
What have they done before that’s relevant to your business – not necessarily ‘in your sector’ but certainly shows effective Return on Investment and results based marketing? (See our case studies here)
Showing that the agency understands the challenges you face and provide a coherent, innovative and realistic solution.
Commitment / Passion
If the agency doesn’t believe in their strategy, their approach and their ideas then why should you? They must enthuse about their ideas and convince you that they will work
The ability to provide agencies with detailed feedback on their pitch is one way of ‘paying’ for the pitch process – if losing agencies can learn from the process then all is not lost.
5. How much are we going to pay the agencies for their time?
Costs – the one thing none of us want to talk about, but the one thing that could make all the difference! The ‘How much are we going to pay the agencies...?’ is a little tongue in cheek, but would clients change their approach to pitching if there was a payment structure. A fixed low cost fee to cover ‘out of pocket’ expenses (and I’d be happy that this is paid into a charitable benevolent fund rather than directly to the agencies), but at least it will encourage clients to ‘value’ the pitch process beyond the number of hours their team has to commit – which we do realise is often substantial too.
And please can the public sector standardise the pitch process for ALL procurement. How many E-Portals do we have to be registered with that request non-standard information about our business? At last count we were registered on 14 websites. Surely all these could be combined onto one database (GPS would make most sense?) which government and local authority procurement departments could use to select a tender list from agency’s pre-registered PQQ’s? Not rocket science is it?
My final thought
I’d like to end on a positive note, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to pitches and some clients are extremely conscious of the pitch process and the drain it has on agency resources, possibly because many of them are ex-agency. And we recently experienced a positive process that took, in its entirety, just FIVE weeks! Proof that the process can achieve desired results as long as it is well thought out... how refreshing!