Managing Marketing: bad pitch practice and better ways of working with agencies

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Debra Giampoli, Director, Global Strategic Agency Relations at Mondelez International, does not think the creative shoot out is the ideal way to select an agency. Debra and Darren discuss the limitations of the creative pitch and then explore a new way of engaging with agencies that is being piloted by Mondelez International.

Debra_Giampoli

You can listen to the podcast here:

Transcription:

Darren:

So welcome to Managing Marketing and this week it’s coming from Boca Raton in Florida and I’m sitting here talking with Debra Giampoli, Director of Global Strategic Agency Relations at Mondelez International, hi Debra.

Debra:

Hi Darren, nice to see you.

Darren:

It’s great to see you again and I wanted to catch up because it was almost over a year ago when you wrote a terrific guest post for me about the death of the creative shoot out or the need to kill the creative shoot out as a way of choosing agencies.

Debra:

Right.

Darren:

You know that was hugely popular by the way.

Debra:

That’s great to hear, I’m glad it added some value for you.

Why get rid of the creative shoot out?

Darren:

Well I got lots of sharing on LinkedIn and lots of Twitter interest and commentary largely supportive of the fact that we need to get rid of the creative shoot out.

What is it about that process that you think we need to get rid of?

Debra:

Well, first of all, I’ll correct you a little bit. I wouldn’t say that we need to get rid of it entirely because there are some instances where we still do creative shoot outs with some pretty good reasons, but I’ll talk about that in a second.

Darren:

Sure.

Debra:

A couple of reasons why we’re looking at other ways in many cases to choose an agency are that creative pitches are very expensive for agencies to participate in.

It could cost them several hundred thousand dollars to prepare for a creative pitch and whether we are paying that fee or not, and we’re not, somehow those rising costs in an agency’s financial structure come back to the clients directly or indirectly.

Darren:

Absolutely, because they’re going to have to recoup that cost anyway.

Debra:

Exactly.

Darren:

It’s either going to be directly to the client that asked for the pitch, but often, it’s just spread across all the clients.

Debra:

Correct. So it’s got to show up somewhere.

Darren:

Yeah.

Debra:

Another reason is that we believe to an increasing extent that creative pitches don’t test the key determiner of the quality of the creative which we think comes from a strong agency relationship rather than an agency’s ability to respond to a brief.

Darren:

I’m so glad you said that because one of the issues that we’ve found is that sometimes an agency can absolutely luck in getting a concept that the client likes and in actual fact, their ability to reproduce that luck is very minimal.

Debra:

Exactly, exactly! We find that oftentimes an agency will brief several agencies, they’ll disappear, we won’t see them for a couple of weeks, they’ll all come back with whatever creative brilliance they want to show us.

But, it’s an artificial situation because there’s never a case where an agency would disappear for three weeks and not be able to meet with you while they’re developing work in the real world.

Then they come back with the ideas and we choose the agency whose idea we like the best and then six months down the road we’re not happy with the agency and we’re not that happy with the work because it was developed in an artificial situation.

Nobody understands why we went through this whole process and aren’t happy with the agency and the reason is because we didn’t test the relationship and it’s the relationship that’s critical to getting to the best possible work.

It’s the chemistry that needs to be tested

Darren:

So I think I’ve shared with you before, around 2007, we introduced chemistry sessions and then a workshop, a strategic workshop, where the marketing team and the agency actually sit down and work on a problem, not even a brief, a comms problem.

We usually run them for a day, you know, six hours, and every client would go, “Oh, that’s six hours with three different agencies, that’s like three days out of my life”.

Well what they find afterwards is it’s as close to a real life test drive as you’re ever going to get. You’re able to actually sit there and you see the thinkers and the passengers and the talkers that have got no substance. They really get a sense of each agency.

Have you tried workshops at all?

Debra:

We haven’t tried workshops for the reason that you mentioned, it’s a big time commitment and sometimes it’s kind of hard to wrestle clients into that big of a commitment which is kind of funny because it’s a pretty serious decision they’re going to have to make at some point.

But what we have done stopping short of a workshop is recommended to clients that instead of sending the agencies off to develop creative work as part of a pitch, spend time with each agency, go to dinner with them, meet the team, get to know each other, spend time together in a room and ask yourself, “Can I work with these people?”.

Darren:

Well that’s brilliant because it’s all about the chemistry, you know?

Debra:

Yeah.

Darren:

I think people forget that it’s co-creation and that co-creation comes out of how well that fit is.

Debra:

Exactly!

Darren:

It’s interesting what you said about the amount of time because one of the things that we get back from a lot of marketers after the three days of workshops is they go, “That was the most amazing three days and well worth it”, because they’ve taken the same problem to three different agencies and they say, “Each one has a different way of thinking”.

Debra:

Yeah, exactly!

Darren:

It’s like three days getting food for thought from three different companies. So that’s how we overcome it. Usually after that process we have a very clear winner, you know? The agency that they really feel like they could work with, but they still want to go to the spec creative.

Debra:

Right.

Darren:

They’re addicted to the spec creative. And I think the feedback I get is they like to have something to show internally for the process.

A modified pitch process

Debra:

Sure. Yeah, I get where they would want that. I think that what we have done in cases where we’ve been successful in talking them out of a full-blown spec creative pitch, is to coach them through how they’ll make the decision and how they’ll support it upward in the organisation.

We’ve been fairly successful and have had fairly convincing arguments for them to do that and when they have followed those suggestions and been successful, it sort of goes viral because then they start telling their friends and they feel great about the agency they chose, and there aren’t any doubts.

One of the things that we do is what we call a ‘modified pitch process’.

Darren:

Oh okay.

Debra:

That’s where instead of briefing the agencies and asking them to come back with creative, we brief the agencies on our brands, each one at a time and then we ask them to come back stopping short of creative, but come back with a response to some questions:

What other clients have you solved a similar communication challenge for? How would you address our challenge strategically? What do you think our missed opportunities are? You know, what have we missed in the way that we have briefed you?

We ask each of the agencies to come back with responses to questions like that. It’s a longer list of course.

Darren:

They’re fantastic questions because they’re very open questions.

Debra:

Yes.

Darren:

Really, one of the things I think RFIs often miss out on is that they’re quite closed, they’re almost like a shopping list.

Debra:

Exactly.

Darren:

Whereas what I love about those questions is what you’re testing is how holistically an agency thinks about the interaction between them. I really like that.

Debra:

And the thing is, if you get back from an agency and you do your homework about the creative work they’ve done for other clients as evidence that they’re capable of doing great creative work, those two things, their responses to the questions and examples of creative work for other clients, are generally enough to give them a very high level of confidence.

The teams that have gone through this, even if they were sceptical in the beginning, by the end of the selection process, they’re very pleasantly surprised at how clearly one agency versus another will rise above the other competitors and it’s easier for them to make a decision than they might have imagined it would be at the beginning of the process.

Limit your choices

Darren:

It’s interesting you’re talking about that decision difficulty because I also find marketers, because they’re very people focused, they’re very relationship focused, they hate the process of decision-making because what they’re actually doing is eliminating choice.

As they go from smaller, smaller to finally the agency, the level of risk for them gets higher and higher and so they really struggle sometimes to get from say six to three and then three to one.

Debra:

Right.

Darren:

It’s a really difficult thing for them. We even say, it’s got to be three, you can’t take more than three through this gate.

Debra:

Yeah we tell them that too.

Darren:

Well what if we do three plus the incumbent and we’re going, “No, no, it’s the incumbent plus two”. “Oh, but I really, really…”.

Debra:

We could have a whole conversation about the incumbent, the inclusion of the incumbent in the conversation.

Darren:

Well there’s times when they should be included and times they shouldn’t.

Debra:

Exactly.

Darren:

Well maybe we do that another time.

Debra:

We’ll do another podcast about the incumbent.

Darren:

Or you could do a post for me.

Debra:

Sure.

Darren:

Because the last one was hugely popular.

Debra:

Yeah.

Experiments in how to work differently with creative partners

Darren:

Okay, that would be great. Look, now yesterday here at the ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference, you did a presentation about the pilots that you’ve been managing for Mondelez of taking a different approach. Now, I don’t necessarily need you to revisit your 30-minute presentation.

Debra:

Sure, sure.

Darren:

But could you share just the sort of thinking behind it?

Debra:

Okay. So I shared some examples of pilots that we’ve run over the past couple of years that were not necessarily focused on a replacement for the RFP process as much as they were experiments in how to work differently with creative partners to produce creative results.

And what we have found are a couple of learnings; one is that in today’s really complex media world, you can’t find one partner that will do everything for you.

Darren:

It’s impossible.

Debra:

We have had great success getting multiple partners together to collaborate with the client in coming up with a solution and we think that longer term, well, we’re still sort of in the pilot stages and we’re still practicing and experimenting and testing, but we think the future of agency engagements will rely heavily on collaboration.

I talked a lot about that in my talk yesterday.

Darren:

Absolutely. We see a lot of marketers struggling with the convenience of what they like to call a full-service agency but are not really and the desire to have best of breed which often means they end up with a fragmented roster of specialists and then the real struggle of trying to get them to work together.

Debra:

Exactly! And that’s why we are intrigued with models of engagement that are about collaboration. You understand clearly what your communication challenge is, that strategic homework is very important, because understanding what your strategic challenge is, helps you understand who to get in the room and you get those best in breed, not agencies but individuals from agencies.

You carefully select your team and you get them in a room with the client and through some guided collaborative exercises, you can get to a creative challenge that solves the problems you just went through where you’re managing all these different agencies.

Get the best individuals

Darren:

I think that is so insightful that you’re doing it on an individual basis because people try and create collaboration between organisations.

Debra:

Yeah!

Darren:

And organisations have completely different agendas to individuals.

Debra:

Exactly! Exactly!

Darren:

One of the things I say to a lot of clients is, “Don’t get agencies to collaborate. Pick the creative, strategic, technology specialist, because the reason those people get up in the morning is they want a big juicy problem that they can solve because that’s actually what they want to do, that’s their day to day life”.

Debra:

Exactly, exactly!

Darren:

So you cherry-pick the talent from your roster of agencies and then bring them together on a project.

Debra:

Exactly, yeah. That’s what the idea is behind the fly fearless pilots that we’re running now because to your point, if you go to the lead account guy at an advertising agency or any kind of agency and say, “We want you to participate in this collaborative activity”, you can’t influence other agenda items that might be on that senior leader’s mind and what you really need, you have to ask for specifically which is, “This person and that person and this person in a room together”.

Darren:

Well look, it’s a sad fact of the industry that agencies have ended up, and especially account management, they have ended up being responsible for the profitability of the agency. So their agenda in that meeting is, “What’s in it for us financially?”

Debra:

Exactly, exactly.

Darren:

You step outside of account management into creative, digital, technology, strategy, those areas, more the technicians of advertising and, or the creators of advertising, they’re not concerned as much about how much it earns.

They’re concerned about the problem at hand.

Debra:

Exactly, they want to solve the problem! And one of the things that happens with the traditional agency/client model, especially in today’s much more complex media world, is that there is an increasing distance between the brand person and the creative people that are helping solve that brand person’s problem and we’re paying for all of that complexity in between.

Darren:

Absolutely, yeah.

Debra:

And what this model does is it helps narrow that gap and get the creative person and the brand person in a room together. I know agencies are not going to want to hear this, but the process replaces what the account people do.

They’re not account people that are on these small teams of collaborators, they’re creative people and in some cases production people. They are the people that are on the frontline doing the work.

Darren:

The do-ers, they’re doing the work.

Debra:

Exactly.

Darren:

Look and that’s interesting because account management and some people call it account service – I hate that term because account service immediately sets up a relationship of being a servant and I much prefer account management – but account management used to be about managing the resources of the agency for the best outcomes for their client.

Debra:

Exactly.

Darren:

It’s sad, because now I find so many account management people are actually financially managing the account to meet the profit projections or revenue projections of the agency.

So we need to almost find a new project coordinator or project lead function that is independent of that as well, don’t we?

Debra:

Yeah.

Darren:

You’ve taken it in-house!

Debra:

It’s interesting. Yeah, we sort of have. I mean, that’s another way to express it. We sort of have taken account management in-house.

Darren:

Or project management because I guess they’re managing projects. It’s my Australian accent, I say, “project”, you say, “project”.

Look, well that’s really interesting because from our perspective it’s the three things that we find that are the key measures of the right agency or right people in your case, in your model, is certainly capability. They have to have the capabilities. Secondly, the chemistry, they need to be able to have an attitude of working together.

Debra:

Right.

Darren:

And then finally, their ability to collaborate and collaboration defined by The Economist Intelligence Unit requires common goals, shared value of the output and a level of trust.

Debra:

Yes.

Darren:

Now, trust is a really interesting thing and is that part of your model or part of the process? Do you think by selecting the right people, trust happens?

Debra:

Well, it’s not an explicitly stated objective or attribute that we look for but I think that when we find the right people, the trust is there and one of the things that makes it right is that we trust each other.

Darren:

Yep.

Debra:

Another thing that I would say which might just be a different way of saying what you just said, is that the chemistry and the relationship is really important but the partners that we choose, the individuals that we choose to be on these teams for these pilots are individuals with the right mindset.

What that means is; they are open and willing, not just to collaborate, but to check their egos and their position titles at the door and go in the room without a hidden agenda and their sleeves rolled up and willing to just get into this mash-up and share outcomes at the end of the day.

Some people can’t work that way, it’s not familiar to them, it’s uncomfortable to them or there are sort of other things that get in the way.

Darren:

Yep.

Debra:

And that’s pretty clear.

Darren:

You can tell.

Debra:

When we’re talking to them, before we build the team.

Darren:

Look the reason I have a big smile on my face, I’m going to make an observation that you don’t have to comment on, okay?

My experience is the more talented the person, the more likely they are to be able to collaborate with other talented people. The less talented and more insecure they are, the less likely they are to work with others. Now that’s just my observation.

Debra:

Yeah I would agree with the part about the security. I’ve seen some very talented people that are insecure.

Darren:

Talented and secure in themselves.

Debra:

But I think you’re getting at something that’s really important and that’s about the need for us as we build these models and as we facilitate the collaboration, to make this experience a risk-free if you will, experience.

They have to understand they won’t get burned at the end. And the agencies that they represent have to understand that too. If they see this as risky for them, which may relate to trust, then I think we’re going to have a problem.

The ‘Hollywood Model’ as the future of advertising?

Darren:

I just had this thought. If this style of working, this cherry-picking of talent happens, agencies will end up being like talent agencies in Hollywood.

They won’t actually be an infrastructure that just delivers advertising, they’ll actually be an infrastructure that supports talent, that allows the clients to come and pick and choose just as you would go and say, “Well I want Aaron Sorkin to write my screenplay and I want such and such to direct it”, and such and such is the director of photography.

This could be the future model for advertising.

Debra:

Exactly. And it’s really interesting that you say that Darren and one of the things that I talked about yesterday at the end were emerging trends that I’m seeing among agencies and I’m sure you’re seeing this too in the work that you do, that the agencies that are emerging in this new world are agencies that are doing what you just said.

They’re not building big infrastructures of full-time employees. What they’re building is a model with senior leaders who have access to talent that they can call in for on a project basis, based on what the needs are of that particular client at that particular time and it’s the fluidity that I was talking about and I love that analogy of agencies as talent agencies.

Darren:

Yeah.

Debra:

Because that’s kind of what that model looks like and it’s interesting to see the evolution of new agencies out there, what they’re solving in the way that they’re setting themselves up.

Darren:

It will be interesting to see if marketers and their procurement partners are able to make the switch because at the moment when you go to an agency, you’re buying all the infrastructure and all the services that you don’t want.

But would you be willing to pay a premium to get the right talent to come and work on your particular problem, rather than have that money sort of dissipated to cover a whole lot of infrastructure you don’t want?

Debra:

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s going to be the challenge but I think that we would be willing to pay a premium for the talent and still end up paying less than what we’re paying for all that infrastructure. I’d like to see the mathematics around that.

Darren:

Absolutely, because there’s also so many other ways of executing now. There’s all these specialist production companies and lots of different ways and lots of other partners and vendors that you can use to actually do it.

I like the fact that you’re getting back to isolating the creation of the strategy, the strategy being the solution to a problem and the creative expression of that solution in its own process that then goes off and gets executed in various ways. I think that’s fantastic.

Well look, this has been a great conversation, I love catching up with you, I wish we could do it more often but you know, I’m on the other side of the world and you’re so busy traveling but thank you for your time.

Debra:

Absolutely, nice that our paths crossed.

Darren:

Occasionally. Let’s hope it’s more often.

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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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