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Top ten reasons agency pitches take too long

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This post is by Kylie Ridler-Dutton, Marketing Management Consultant at TrinityP3. Kylie is a discipline neutral specialist with consulting and implementation experience spanning across retail, alcohol, utilities and telecommunications.

Lately there has been discussion that indicates the industry thinks the pitch process is too long and involved and complicated and they are looking for / proposing ways to make it faster / easier.

But pitches can be designed to be as short or as long as required. From a few weeks to many months. In every case the process can be designed to ensure due diligence and governance, but most importantly to select the most appropriate agency.

So why do some pitches take too long? And how can they be managed more efficiently?

1. Lack of agreed definition of success

What is the definition of success? Many think it is simply finding a new agency, but to do what and how and when and why would they be better than what you currently have?

Sometimes the business engages in a pitch process and forgets to involve the entire business to understand the current needs of the business. Recently we had a client wanting to pitch and there were two very different opinions on why they needed to pitch and what was wrong with the current supplier relationships. We set out to audit the current state of play to ensure moving forward there were key objectives and a defined brief of what the business required.

2. Poor communication

Often clients forget to brief stakeholders and to properly brief the pitch consultant on what they are trying to achieve, often resulting in problems mid process as new objectives are discovered. TrinityP3 avoids this issue by way of a clear client brief at the beginning of the process.

Also poor communication on time commitment. Who needs to be involved, when and for how long and what do they need to provide to make this process work effectively?

Poor communication or often no communication with the agencies themselves to set and manage expectations. This is often a misinterpretation of a procurement adage that tendering suppliers should be held at a distance. But how do you assess potential agencies unless you are in communication with each one, rather then locking them out of the process completely?

3. Internal politics

If there is disagreement internally there will not be an agreed outcome. If there is not alignment on wanting to review new relationships, this will lead to issues moving forward with the process. All stakeholders need to review and approve the brief and be aligned at the start of the process.

This goes back to point one in defining the successful outcome and making sure all stakeholders sign off on this outcome up front so that it aligns expectations up front. This avoids a sudden change in direction mid pitch due to internal politics or unforeseen long delays due to the time and effort it takes to manage internal political issues.

4. No decision-making framework

A pitch needs a clearly defined panel of stakeholders that should be involved from the get go and clearly involved in the objectives of the process and desired outcomes.

An example, we have seen pitches fall apart at the end due to bringing key decision makers in at the final creative round and not debriefing the previous stages of the pitch to let the parties see how the process ran. Often this is due to fear of asking senior stakeholders to commit their time.

Decisions need to be made on who is making decisions and how important the decisions are weighted. Is this senior management or operational staff making the decision or both? How are they weighted and is the criteria aligned to the definitions of a successful outcome?

The strength of the agency is a mix of cultural fit and strategic and creative alignment throughout the process. We report on findings at every stage of the pitch to ensure stakeholders are aligned before moving to the next stage of the process.

5. Poorly defined process

There is a level of commitment needed to run a pitch process from stakeholders and if the process is not defined and agreed it can disrupt and lengthen the process. It needs to be agreed on what a pitch can achieve and not achieve up front with the pitch consultant.

TrinityP3 have a process that is clear to both the client and agencies from the outset of the process.

Everyone thinks they know how to run a pitch but the truth is there is no one pitch process to suit all occasions. You need to be able to customise the process to deliver the desired successful outcome. Sure there are some standard issues and rules to ensure governance and due diligence but the truth is that you need to clearly define the process up front for all parties to be able to participate productively.

6. Stakeholder availability

To keep the efficiency of the process it is crucial to align people’s diaries and get commitment from the get go, this will guarantee the right people are in the room from both sides – client and agency to get the best results in chemistry and final selection.

Engaging an agency and commitment of your budget that will ultimately be handed over to the chosen partner should be viewed as important as any other investment within the business.

A pitch requires a higher level of commitment than many realise and therefore it is important to make sure all stakeholders are aware of their level of commitment upfront including where and when they need to participate. The best way is to plan the process and develop a schedule and have all stakeholders agree. If they cannot commit to the process up front then they should not be involved.

7. No-one dedicated to managing the process

To drive the above points the process needs a key stakeholder to communicate to the right people internally and manage the diary management. The key person needs to be willing to run the process like any other project they would be tasked to manage to ensure the process runs to the agreed timings.

The pitch process is largely administrative and therefore becomes a project on top of the many other projects you will be working on. It is important it is given the same importance as you would any other project. If you don’t have the time or there is no one able to dedicate the time to administering the pitch process then you should probably outsource it

8. The business uses the pitch to solve their business proposition

The danger is using the pitch to try and get free strategy and ideas because to get strategy or ideas that are valuable to you requires sharing detailed and often confidential information with the agencies pitching for your business. They would need that information so they are able to create solutions and recommendations customised to your needs. This is a risk most smart advertisers avoid.

It cant be the silver bullet solution, rather a confidence that there is added value from the agency experience, people and a strong chemistry. If the brief is too complex it requires a greater level of collaboration and yes more time. Clients need to be realistic as to the size of the brief and the time needed to allow the agency to showcase a fair response. TP3 assist clients shape the brief having the experience and specialists to ensure the pitch brief is aligned with the process.

9. Unclear briefs

The time you put in now will be worth it in the long run. If the brief is terrible you will get an incomplete response and need to look at furthering the evaluation process to satisfy the business. Often we see briefs that have no defined problem rather a vague brand review. Therefore you will get vague responses from the candidate agencies with nothing tangible to give the business confidence in assigning a chunk of marketing budget .

The flip side to asking too much is either a brief that is too vague or too restrictive. Too vague and the agencies will be all over the place and it will be hit and miss. Rather than selecting the best agency you could end up selecting the agency that just got lucky and can you depend on them getting lucky every time?

10. Unrealistic expectations

You need to be real about what you are asking. Rome was not built in a day and agencies do not do their best work overnight. Transparency is key to not needing to start again so all parties can clearly participate and align on capabilities. It is important to have the right brief with the capabilities required outlined in the brief to the pitch consultant and to translate this into the RFI to the potential agencies.

Try and set your expectations to the size of the problem and the size of the prize. If you need a small design agency to do some project work do not run a major pitch process that requires the agency to redesign your whole corporate identity. Likewise do not ask an agency to show their massive strategic or creative ability in the pitch if most of the work they are to do is reworking global campaigns.

But where you have a big project and a big opportunity, if you set this as the task for the agencies then make sure you are willing to give them the time and the input to solve the problem properly.

So how do you run a tight pitch?

Define success

Communicate to all participants

Get internal alignment up front

Agree a decision-making framework

Design and implement a detailed process

Ensure stakeholder availability and participation

Recruit resources to manage the process

Carefully design brief to test success

Manage expectation on all sides

TrinityP3 can help you here with

  • almost two decades of experience managing pitches
  • defined processes that are customised for every client
  • processes to manage pitches in weeks or months – depending on your needs
  • benchmarking costs and developing scopes of work for financial review
  • stakeholder management experience
  • industry register of agencies across all disciplines globally
  • extremely satisfied clients and agencies (even when they are not successful)

TrinityP3’s comprehensive Search & Selection process provides extensive market knowledge, tightly defined process and detailed evaluation and assessment. Find out more

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Kylie is a discipline neutral specialist with consulting and implementation experience spanning across retail, alcohol, utilities and telecommunications to name a few. Kylie has worked in various Agencies in both Melbourne and Sydney as a Client Services Director managing the development and implementation of a wide range of global brands over the past 18 years.

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