Please Agency, do not thank me when you win a new business 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.

Many agency people approach me to join TrinityP3 because they want to be a pitch consultant. They want to get on the other side of the pitch to see how it happens. And to be honest, when the pitch is complete and the winner is appointed there is much celebration and jubilation. For everyone that is, except the unsuccessful agencies.

Often the CEO of the winning agency will thank me for the win. And I feel disingenuous accepting this thanks for a number of reasons that I will explain below. Do not get me wrong though, I understand why they are thanking me.

Happy diverse business group toasting with ChampagneBut I am not sure I should be thanked for the following reasons:

  1. We presented the agency to the client for consideration because they met the client requirements
  2. We did not sell the agency, but presented the information known to us from the industry
  3. The client chose the agency because they believed they were the best fit for the task at hand

Ultimately all we did was create an opportunity based on fulfilling the advertiser’s needs. It is always up to the agency to win the business.

Let me explain, as I believe many agencies and marketers have the wrong idea of what we do as pitch consultants.

1. Defining the advertiser’s requirements

The first step in undertaking an agency review is to understand the reason for the review and to articulate what a successful outcome would look like in the minds of the marketers and advertisers.

The purpose of the review is important and in some cases we have talked the advertiser out of undertaking a review because their reason did not justify the investment of time and the disruption the process would inflict on the marketing team and the industry, when more effective and less disruptive solutions were available and unconsidered.

Defining the successful outcome determines the parameters of the marketers’ requirements of an agency, including capabilities, chemistry / culture and creativity as well as the more practical but no less important attributes such as size, location and place in the roster structure and strategy.

2. Matching the agency attributes to the advertiser needs

The next step is to then use our agency register and the industry knowledge we have, to filter the available agencies against these requirements and to provide an overview of suitable agencies that can deliver the marketers’ needs. This forms the long list.

We review the long list with the marketers, providing them with details about the individual agencies and an independent and informed assessment in regards to how well they best fit the requirements of the brief. We also answer questions that the marketer may have and if the answer is unknown, will confidentially approach the agency to obtain the answer. This is especially sensitive in relation to conflicting business.

From this discussion, the marketer selects an invitation list of agencies, usually between 4 – 6, but depending on the range of capabilities required, sometimes more. This filtering process, even at this early stage, can be difficult for marketers, as the decision making process is eliminating options.

Marketers are rightly concerned that they ensure they have the best options from those presented, in this list. The role of the consultant here is not to make the choice, but to provide the information, insights and guidance through the decision making process.

3. Managing a fair process that lets all agencies be their best

People talk about an even playing field and often procurement will design and manage a very inflexible process in the belief it creates this outcome. But in the words of Albert Einstein

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

The process must allow the marketers to identify and assess the agencies for the requirements that are defined in the brief. The 4C’s of capabilities, chemistry, creativity and commercial considerations must all be presented and reviewed in a way that allows the most rigorous evaluation and must be fair to all parties.

A successful outcome will see both the marketers and the agencies feeling positive about the process and the outcome. Again, on a personal level, it is a matter of some pride that we have consistently positive reports from agencies on the process we run, both from successful and unsuccessful agencies.

4. Letting the advertiser make their own decision

In every pitch there comes a time when a marketer or advertiser will ask us:

Which agency would you choose / select / appoint?

The answer, with tongue firmly in cheek is always:

We do not have to live with the agency – you do.

The consequence of the choice does not impact on the consultant, beyond the marketer making a choice that delivers the desired outcome. Therefore the process is to focus on the success criteria defined in the briefing process and then discuss and guide the marketer through the various agencies’ performance and undertakings, allowing them to focus on making an informed and reasoned choice for themselves.

This decision making process is informed and supported by fact, emotion and instinct. The role of the consultant is simply to facilitate the process leading to the decision, based on the information and observations of the pitch, but never to make the decision for the marketer or advertiser.

5. Success outcome for the consultant

As a consultant, it is important to not become attached to the outcome, to not have a desire for any particular agency to succeed. Instead, the success outcome is to have a client who is completely comfortable with their decision, by ensuring their decision best fits their needs.

The industry concept of the ‘best agency’ is incorrect when it comes to pitches. Instead, the successful outcome is the ‘best fit agency’. often the industry lauded agencies are not the best fit for a particular client. This is not because the client has made the wrong choice. But because their criteria is specific and different to the general criteria set by industry awards.

My personal measure of success is if the final decision is a difficult one because all of the agencies meet the client’s requirements. Preparing a list and managing a process that gives the client a plethora of excellent options is what we are engaged to achieve. Therefore while the decision making struggle can be torture for the agencies waiting for the outcome, it is potentially a sign of a very tight race.

An important afterthought

Anyone undertaking the management of a pitch or tender of any type should remember that for every winner there is always a much larger number of losers. You can say to yourself, it is just business, but the fact is that you are dealing with people and that makes it personal.

The ultimate outcome is that all participating parties feel that they have had a fair and equitable hearing, their professionalism and goodwill is respected and that they are acknowledged for their time and efforts.

To this last point, for all agencies there should be an open and honest feedback process that provides the agency with an understanding of  their performance and provides them with tangible evidence and advice. It is the least you can do for the commitment they have made in participating in your process.

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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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One Response to Please Agency, do not thank me when you win a new business pitch

  1. A thoughtful post, Darren. If Pitch Doctors were to take an Hippocratic Oath like all doctors, it would include much of what you said.

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