Life’s a Pitch

Agency pitching has been a hot topic this month, with many once again questioning the traditional pitch process. Clearly it works for some, just ask VCCP (winners of AAR’s new business ranking) and Engine and Snap who in same report are reportedly enjoying an 87.5% conversion rate. However, for many, a lot of time and effort can be expended with little hope of success – or recognition for your efforts.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, to read Harry Lang’s article in Campaign, deploring the lack of manners shown by BMW to the agencies pitching for its ad business in the US. It’s reported that BMW initially selected 25 agencies to pitch, before shortlisting to 5. It was a long, drawn affair and likely that each of these agencies invested considerably in the process. However, after GS&P won the account, many of the others only then found out the result through social media or AdAge.

The problem is, an account like BMW is a BIG client for most: global car brand, big spend, and a parade float for the winner. If you think you have a chance of winning it – be it 1 in 25 or 1 in 5 – you are likely to want to give it your best shot. Just imagine, winning BMW and being able to add that to the client list. They know that too.

The reward has to justify the risk. Pitching for a major account, you will have to commit a lot of time and money and no guarantee of any work, payment or even, as in the BMW case, feedback. However, it’s not just the big spending clients out there who are often asking a lot from agencies during the pitch process…

As marketing budgets continue to feel the strain of the current economic backdrop, new business is becoming increasingly competitive at all levels of spend – many agencies are having to invest considerable time and effort into winning what previously would have been regarded as low value projects. And even then, it’s not always guaranteed the work will materialise.

One agency I spoke to recently found themselves in talks with a brand who were not happy with their incumbent agency and looking to change, quickly. Discussions went well and they were actively encouraged to provide a proposal for the work. It therefore came as a surprise to find themselves in a competitive pitch against 5 other agencies – including the incumbent – for a project with a value of under £50k. Then despite being told by the client that they thought they were the best option, they were going to stick with the incumbent for the time being….

It’s hardly surprising that many are now suggesting it’s time for a viable, streamlined alternative to the traditional pitch. Creativebrief are calling for more appropriate, responsible, ethical and effective alternative that is fit for today’s business environment and the topic of a recent event suggested ridding the agency of the pitch as we know it.

Whilst recent concerns have been raised over the way some pitches are managed, there is nothing quite like a big pitch to bring the best out of an agency. There will be many agencies out there who will be happy and comfortable with the way the process currently works. Those that get invited for the most pitches can maximize their chances and fine tune themselves for consistent success.

Last month saw the AAR post its annual new business survey, with VCCP ranked as top new business agency for the seventh straight year with 21 wins, including Cadbury and Britvic – from 31 opportunities (converting two-thirds).

The AAR’s Managing Partner Martin Jones wrote that “The accolade of being the agency that most clients chose to pitch when they had a free choice is arguably the best indicator of an agency’s new-business skills.”

Engine and Snap achieved the highest conversion rate of 87.5%, although this was only from undertaking 8 pitches, which highlights the importance of being selective about the type of work you go for.

Turning down pitches is easier said than done given the current economic climate, but for agencies of all sizes, it’s important to make sure you focus your time and effort on the right type of opportunities and where you have the best chance of success.

As a Business Development agency, a big objective for many of our clients is to help them get on pitch lists. However, a lot of our success has been helping our clients avoid them, especially the long drawn out ones. For us it’s about building relationships and identifying what the client needs, often before they realise it.

With brands reviewing the way they work with agencies and looking for different solutions, perhaps it is time to start looking at the pitch process. More so, it is about finding the right mechanism brands to find right agency partners – and vice versa. Pitches expectations should be appropriate to the scale of the opportunity and well defined, not used as a speculative process to look at the market or drive down price of existing suppliers. That way, agencies will have the confidence to keep giving their all to deliver you the perfect pitch.

From an agency perspective, there is nothing quite like the excitement of making it on to the short-list for an agency pitch for an exciting client and as they say, you’ve got to be in it to win it! it’s unlikely the process as we know it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, so it’s important you assess each opportunity on it’s own merit. How well is the brief defined, what is the client like to deal with, how many agencies are involved and what is the budget are all good things to establish at the outset before deciding to invest your valuable time and effort on trying to win it.

According to jfdi’s 2017 New Business Barometer, the average pitch conversion rate was 41%. Pitch success can be down to leadership, talent and process. Agencies should always be striving to increase this and it’s always worth reviewing your approach. Make sure whether you win or lose, you get feedback as to why.

We will be exploring how the pitch process can be improved on 12th June 2018 at Soho Hotel, bringing together perspectives from clients, agencies, intermediary and procurement. Click here to find out more and be part of the discussion.

How Can the Pitch Process Be Improved?

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