“Do you know which agency is going to win before the pitch?” That’s the question John Heenan, Agency Growth Consultant, asked 150 marketers for his post, “Is an agency pitch a fair fight?” Seventy-one percent answered “Sometimes” and another thirteen percent said “Yes.” If this data is projectable to the nation’s marketers, marketing has a serious problem, not just agencies.
What goes around, comes around.
I spent 7 years doing nothing but pitches for Arnold Worldwide in Boston. I know what goes into a pitch – the expense, the hours, the stress, the emotion, all of it.
To learn that 84% of clients sometimes or definitely have a winner chosen before we begin the pitch explains a lot of the losses we experienced. One pitch I was sure we won, where an underling on the client side said (keeping in mind we ultimately lost), “You guys blew the others out of the water. We just need to clear it with the CEO.”
But the worst part is that agency wonks like me actually thought we had a chance. We believed in ourselves, we believed in our research (which we paid for on your behalf), we believed in our work and we were willing to give up our lives for a couple months in order to prove it to you.
And we were just one agency. There were nineteen others all doing the same thing, starting with the RFP. Well, eighteen others doing it in vain, anyway. One of the twenty was probably already the winner.
What marketers are doing is exploiting the natural, blind, childlike hopefulness of advertising agencies. I bet you could tell the other 19 agencies that it’s rigged and they’d still think they can win. I know I always thought we could. We’re competitive that way.
But it’s not right. And in the end it’s not in your interest.
In any given pitch, you are wasting the time, resources and profit of 19 agencies. And guess how they’re going to make that up? You know that “overhead” your agencies charge that you hate paying for? That only goes up.
So while you get “free” ideas from 20 agencies during this pitch, the expense will come around to you eventually in the overhead of the agencies you do hire.
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The expense of a “free” pitch goes straight to agency overhead.
A compromise: shorter, more visceral pitches.
There’s a quote from one of the surveyed in Heenan’s study that I think reveals an opportunity: “The pitch isn’t really a good situation for agencies. It’s what they do in the chemistry meeting, with their credentials and questions that decide it.”
At least this person waited until the chemistry meeting to decide, but then, apparently, it’s over. So why not play into this and save everyone months of time and money?
Pitch = RFP + Chemistry Session + Dinner
So still do the RFP round with 20 agencies, but limit the finalist list to 5-6 for Chemistry Sessions and Dinner. And that’s it.
Chemistry presentations are powerful and informative, but not hard to put together for agencies. It’s mostly existing materials perhaps with some quick primary/secondary research to inform the case studies shown and maybe initial thought starters on the business. But we’re talking weeks, not months.
Can you feel the overhead getting lighter?
Everything you need to know about a great agency you’ll find in the Chemistry round. You’ll see how they think, how they develop strategies, any proprietary methods, how they got to an idea, how that idea came to life in the marketplace, and ultimately what it did for the business. Not to mention the fact you’ll get to meet the people you’d be working with.
Which brings us to dinner.
Make dinner a mandatory part of the pitch for these finalists. That you want to meet the team during the day and see them in action, but that you also want to get to know them personally over dinner. A nice restaurant, cocktails flowing, conversation ensuing. You will learn everything you need to know.
I strongly recommend you allow the agencies to host these Chemistry + Dinner sessions. That way you can see the agency, get the tour and feel the vibe of the place. And even the restaurant they choose will say something about them.
If Heenan’s data is accurate, you might have made the decision after this Chemistry round anyway. So why not just make it official and get to work productively – and far more intimately than in a cold pitch – with that agency right way.
Your pitch can be over within a few weeks (good for you and your team). You won’t be wasting the precious resources of agencies over a several-months-long (and doomed for all but one) pitch, which means over time overhead goes down across the board. And the unbridled hopefulness of agencies the world over can be channeled into a moment worth hoping for.
But it will only work if everyone does it. Who’s first?