How to provide fact-based feedback to unsuccessful agencies in a pitch

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

One of the things that constantly amazes me is the response I get when presenting feedback to agencies following a pitch. It seems from the reactions to our debriefing report and process, that this is an area that is often overlooked or at least handled badly by marketers and apparently by many other consultants.

In my fifteen years as a copywriter and creative director in agencies, and especially the last five years at JWT, I was heavily involved in new business pitches and remember how vague the feedback often was post pitch. Terms like “your strategy / creative was not strong” and when you probed to understand the responses became even less clear and less helpful in understanding and improving the way we work.

Gossip_And_MisinformationMy experience since founding TrinityP3 thirteen years ago is that agency feedback is pretty much the same today. Even when I searched The Good Pitch site set up by ISBA and the IPA in the UK there is little direction on providing agency feedback except that it “should be thorough and delivered within 4 weeks of the pitch”.

The purpose of providing feedback

My belief is that if an agency is willing to participate in your selection process, then the least you should do is be open, honest and thorough in providing them with feedback if they are unsuccessful.

The purpose of providing this feedback is to:

  1. Help the agency understand why they were not successful
  2. Give them an understanding of how they performed compared to the other agencies
  3. Provide them with advice and direction on areas they can improve

This requires a more rigorous and detailed feedback session than simply ‘having a chat’.

Why providing feedback can be difficult

When we are managing reviews and pitches, many marketers will ask us to give the agency feedback on their behalf. I prefer to have the marketer there during this process so they can provide any input and also see how we do this. I think many people find the process of providing feedback to the unsuccessful agencies as confronting as it requires them to justify or rationalise their decision.

This fear of confrontation with the unsuccessful agencies means that marketers will often look for ‘tangible’ points such a creative quality or strategic skills, even when the reason the agency was unsuccessful was more intangible such as chemistry or simply if they liked you enough.

Yet if these are the reasons the agency was unsuccessful, it is important that you are honest, rather then misdirecting them to potentially make changes in areas where no changes are required and are simply an excuse to compensate for a lack of courage.

When to provide feedback

When you inform an agency that they are unsuccessful at any time in the process (credentials, chemistry, workshop, presentation or the final negotiation) you should offer to provide them feedback at a time that suits them. This can be by telephone, but it is better provided face to face.

The reason for not providing feedback at the time of informing them they have been unsuccessful is that they are often processing the news and are not really open to taking in the feedback. If they do ask why during that conversation, it is important to have one or two points to explain that you can then elaborate on later in the feedback session.

How to provide feedback

The feedback session can take place either at the agency or at the marketers offices. The important point is to have an agenda of the feedback you want to provide. This can be structured a number of ways, but there must be a structure. The problem with the way many people provide feedback is that being unprepared and unstructured they often provide feedback off the ‘top of the head’.

TrinityP3 has developed a feedback process that takes the agencies through each stage of the process and shares with them the scores they were given against the assessment criteria and more importantly compares this with the average score given to all of the agencies in the process. This not only allows the agency to see where they scored low, but also how this compared to the average of the agencies they were competing against.

This then becomes the basis of the discussion with the agency. We present the scores for each of the stages that the agency participated in and provide insight into any of the scores where the agency was above or below the average. The agency will invariably have questions and so we answer these as openly and honestly as possible, taking into consideration any sensitive issues.

I have had to provide feedback to an agency CEO that the client did not trust him because of the way he sweated and fidgeted nervously or the strategy planner with the strong halitosis or the creepy senior account guy who kept looking the client in the chest. I think it is important to be honest and sensitive in these situations because the alternative is to deflect the agency from the real issues. And if handled correctly you will find the agency will thank you.

Steps to providing valuable feedback

  1. Implement a score card process with commentary for each step of the process to ensure you have a detailed record of the agency’s performance.
  2. When you inform an agency that they are unsuccessful, offer to provide more detailed feedback at a time that suits them.
  3. Structure the feedback around the scores given to the agency at each stage of the process and provide a comparison to the average given for each.
  4. Be open, honest and thorough in providing feedback, but also be sensitive to the feelings of the agency individuals.

Things you should never do in providing feedback

  1. Avoid abdicating responsibility for giving feedback to someone else not involved in the process
  2. Never make comparisons between individual agencies, always make comparisons to the average
  3. Never share information provided by other agencies, even by way of demonstration as this breaches commercial confidentiality
  4. Don’t avoid issues or questions that you find confronting. It is better to be honest and sensitive than to lie or deceive.

What do you think about agency feedback? Is it a challenge or something you want to avoid? Or do you have a better way of providing constructive feedback? Let me know by leaving a comment here.

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com
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4 Responses to How to provide fact-based feedback to unsuccessful agencies in a pitch

  1. Anne Miles says:

    Really useful 'how to ' here Darren. This applies to suppliers who are not successful along the chain too I feel.

    I think your integrity around this is evident in this post.

  2. TrinityP3 says:

    Thanks Anne, I am glad you see the value here.

  3. yeenster says:

    This is useful. Wish you had gone a bit deeper into the what metrics to use during the 'scorecard' process – as I have been requested to be a judge (aka: MKTG Director) to whom a few PR teams will pitch the same ideas to. Thus doing some homework. THanks anyways, this was helpful enough.

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