5 Key Takeaways from Upfront Straight Talking event: How can the pitch process be improved?
Last month Upfront Business Development hosted the latest in its Straight Talking Series, bringing together over 100 agencies and brands to debate the pitch process. Robin Bonn, Founder of Co:definery, led the discussion with representatives from brand, agency, intermediary and procurement. The expert panel consisted of Carolyn McKeever, Global Head of Downstream Marketing at Shell, Nina Jasinski, Chief Marketing Officer at Ogilvy, Charlie Carpenter, Managing Director at Creativebrief and Tina Fegent, from Tina Fegent Consulting.
- Views on the pitch process were split
Creativebrief’s recent research suggested that 61% of brands and 93% of agencies didn’t think the current pitch process was fit for purpose. Upfront’s Founder, Jody Osman, kicked off the day by asking the audience their views on this. The room was evenly split between those that agreed and those who disagreed. A good starting point to continue the discussion on how it can be improved.
There was also difference in opinion amongst the panel. Nina (agency) and Tina (procurement) were in general agreement that if the proper procedures are adhered to, the pitch process largely works. From the brand perspective, Carolyn agreed that the current process is working, but recognised the many flaws for both client and agency, and called for more fluidity in relationship between those involved. Charlie, as supported by Creativebrief’s research, highlighted the growing dissatisfaction with the current process by both brands and agencies. Due to increased selectivity of agencies, brands are not always getting the agencies they necessarily want, in which Carolyn agreed, based on her experiences at Shell, where five agencies that they wanted to work with turned them down.
- Agency stand out is vital
In order to stand out from the crowd, Nina commented that for agencies, “reputation is definitely paramount…if you don’t understand how the client is finding you and you’re hoping that its just going to happen by luck, it’s going to take a long time for you to grow”. Carolyn agreed with this statement. Whilst she concurred that a number of boxes need to be ticked to narrow down a short list of appropriate agencies, she commented that once it gets to pitching, every agency can do everything they need across every market in every possible way and it’s therefore very difficult to make the final decision.
“That final decision comes down to: did you like the people? Was the work good? Was there chemistry? Was there any diversity at all on their panel side?” (Shell)
- Partnership is a complicated term
Debate continued around to what extent the pitch demonstrates a good future relationship between client and agency. Carolyn argued that the more important question to be asked is “why are we even pitching?” commenting that the pitch process doesn’t fully give a sense of how the partnership will work. Charlie added that the pitch process doesn’t offers a “true sense” of what it will be like to work with an agency. Nina contended that this doesn’t mean that they didn’t end up happy in the choice of agency and argued that transparency on both sides will create a stronger collaboration between client and agency. After conducting a comprehensive global agency review earlier this year, Carolyn believes that the idea of “partnership is seriously lacking”, and in order to change this, both sides need to be open to the change. Tina commented that partnership is a really tough word to use, and one procurement doesn’t use lightly.
“Agencies are suppliers and while you should try to do the most to make sure it’s a two-way relationship, it’s ultimately a client- supplier relationship.” (Tina Fegent Consulting)
Tina did note that finding out about each other is essential, so workshops within the process need to be utilised. Charlie commented that the current process in place doesn’t promote a strong partnership, and clients will find much greater value from spending significant time with the agency, as indicated in the “try before you buy” process that Creativebrief are beginning to promote. He highlighted that the narrative around leverage which procurement specialist tend to argue needs to change in order to promote a successful partnership.
- One size doesn’t fit all
Although disagreement on best practices, all panellists were in general agreement that there wasn’t one strict structure of the pitch process that worked for every client and agency. There are over 20,000 agencies in the UK and 40 different agency models so there isn’t going to be one solution to suit everyone. Robin argued that there is an opportunity for both brands and agencies to challenge the process in place, and there are a whole variety of different pitching models, which can be tailored depending on type, size and resource of agency.
“It’s’ incumbent on everybody to have a conversation, and to push to have that conversation about what’s the right kind of model, both on the client and on the agency side. It’s a question of taking responsibility…agencies should make sure you have the remit, responsibility and the criteria that are pertinent, and give yourself permission to have that conversation with the client.” (Co:definery)
The day ended with Robin wrapping up and offering the advice that all parties need to choose the model that is right for them. It’s not about dramatic change, but evolution of the process to eventually get the best for all involved.
- Still plenty more to discuss
The conversation will continue at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect event on 13th September. That evening, The BD100 awards, will celebrate the best UK business developers; bringing together the Business Development community for a night of networking, conversation, insight and celebration.
Get your ticket for Pitch Perfect, and The BD100 event here