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Managing Marketing: The Rights And Wrongs Of Media Agency Pitching

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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.

Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham is the Group Marketing Director for WPP AUNZ and has been a long time new business guru for GroupM agencies in Australia and the USA. Here he chats with Darren on the media agency pitch process and where agencies and clients get it right and not so right.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on Soundcloud or iTunes

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing. Today I’m sitting down and having a chat with Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham who’s Group Marketing Director at WPP Australia and New Zealand and also one of the people I used to work with way back in the JWT days. Welcome, Sparrow.

Greg:

Thanks mate, glad to be here.

Darren:

Well, that was actually last century, but it doesn’t feel like that.

Greg:

You’ve just dated us – last century. When I think back, the way that media people reacted with the creative people, we bounced off each other, we chatted, we were curious, sort of really worked together; to me that’s missing.

Darren:

That was 1995 and and you did a presentation to the agency on the new Mindshare logo—the red and the purple.

Greg:

Ogilvy and JWT—two colours of each brand—red and blue and when it came together it was purple, the Mindshare colour. At the time Asia/Pacific was leading the world—that was the vision to happen. Australia and APAC happened first so we were the test case.

They thought it was easier to put it together in Australia and APAC as it was than to do it North America or the U.K.

Darren:

All those big and traditional markets—perhaps they say there was greater flexibility. I have to say, I used to love as a creative person, coming in to the media area for two reasons. One, is media always had the best invitations to sporting events.

Greg:

We had the tickets.

Darren:

But also because of that connection with the traditional media and now the digital media it’s a place where creatively you could get up to date really quickly with what was been happening in the marketplace; not just media trends but the media content and stuff like that. And I just wonder how creative agencies do that today because if you’re separated from the media agency how do you tap into the media?

Greg:

I think you miss out on that. I agree. Obviously, there can be more of a formal process with the media trends and what’s happening. But sometimes it’s just the guts of what’s going on or bouncing ideas that is really so valuable. That’s a challenge.

Darren:

I wonder if that’s also part of why we’re starting to see the two come back together.

Greg:

I think you’ll see more of that.

Darren:

Some are saying that it’s data that’s driving it but I’m not so sure it’s just the data. It’s almost like it broke.

Greg:

Yeah. I’m sure the media guys have got access to all the media data, but I think it’s the creativity of the idea and the two strategies coming together that’s the powerful thing–just having that relationship.

I’d go down to the creatives and ask, ‘is this possible, could we do this?’ and vice versa so that we were all bouncing round. I’ve got this brief; could we do this together? Really pushing the boundaries on it.

Darren:

I remember at the time and Harold Mitchell was probably one of the main drivers of this, that bigger was better, that if you could be bigger and buy bigger you could buy cheaper. But that’s changing as well. It was a big motivation at the time for people to go with big media agencies, but I think that’s changing now.

Greg:

I guess for me there is still volume and scale; so, discounts and added value—there is still something in that. However, once you have all that scale are you still as nimble, creative or as innovative? Do you then become a processing workshop that churns it through?

Darren:

A factory.

Greg:

Sure, you churn it out but is it the best quality? It’s trying to get the best of both worlds isn’t it?

Darren:

Some would argue that programmatic is you buy it at whatever the market is unless you can do some sort of volume deal but that’s only going to get you to a certain point in the introduction.

Greg:

Once again I would say—programmatic, you’ve got volume and scale but where are the human insights. We’re doing that, and it’s cost effective and it’s automated but is it really on brief? Is that really what we want? Is that the quality? Just having that oversight is incredibly valuable.

Darren:

And the reason for reflecting on that is that one of the things you’ve been really good at over your career is winning clients. Not just winning them in the first place but also keeping them onboard for years and years. At Mindshare, Group M and then at WPP it has been a real focus for you. Why do you traction to winning business?

Greg:

The process can be exciting. Obviously, depending on the process it can be full-on, tedious, the pressure but if you’ve got the right team pitching at your best it can be really amazing. It can galvanise an agency or it’s the lifeblood of an agency.

To me, when you’re pitching well you’ve got great people, great resources, and all the smartest people coming up with great ideas, that has a real energy and vibe around the place. It gives you momentum.

When an agency is doing well that normally infers growing and winning business. It has that momentum or feel, that buzz about it. You can sense they’re doing well.

Darren:

From the time you enter the foyer you can feel the electricity.

Greg:

Totally. And the reverse is when someone is no longer on a great streak or not doing well you can also feel that lack of energy and you think these guys aren’t winning. They don’t have momentum or spark or that drive.

Darren:

A lot of people talk about defending a piece of business versus winning a piece of business. From your experience do you think one is harder than the other or they’re both tough?

Greg:

I think defending is tougher because you’re in a real situation. For me sometimes in a new business scenario you can envision the future, what you can do together down the track whereas when you’re the incumbent it’s day to day the real stuff.

And stuff mightn’t go well, or the key number is wrong, and something happens that is really difficult to control so it’s hard to show off your new shiny tools when you’re stuck in the day to day.

So, I think if you can keep the big piece of business and sometimes you need to have fresh eyes or a fresh challenge. With a new CMO I would always immediately go into new business mode because I knew they’d always look at our media plans and tell me a different way. So, we would literally have a plan of attack to treat that as a new business pitch.

Darren:

It’s so funny you should say that. I’ve had 3 new CMOs in the last 2 years say, ‘it’s 6 months into my appointment and I still haven’t heard from the CEO, Managing Director of my media agency’.

Greg:

That’s appalling. I’d want to know the first day.

Darren:

And they wonder why a pitch was called. That’s one way of getting the agency’s attention.

Greg:

I would go—what’s our first 60 days? How are we working them? What are we showing them?

Darren:

Apparently it was because they had left it to their account management or team to handle that.

Greg:

There’s a problem there.

Darren:

I think it’s also because media agencies look, as businesses, so big.

Greg:

Yes.

Darren:

Media agencies still report on billings –so it’s a billion, trillion, gazillion dollars’ worth of billings. So, they’re big businesses except 95% of that money is usually getting sent through to someone else. So, there is a trap for a CEO to go ‘well, I’m in charge of a multimillion-dollar business’ except it’s not really. It’s turnover not revenue.

Greg:

If you did the homework you would know that your top 5 clients represent 80-90% of your revenue—you’d be all over them. What are you doing for those—particularly when a review is coming up?

Darren:

Incumbents, I agree with you; it’s tough, except that increasingly we’re seeing procurement just call a review because the contract’s up. Every 3 or 4 years the contract’s up we‘re going to go into a review.

And we’ve also seen the marketers go ‘we don’t really want this to go to pitch’ because it’s going really well, and they love the agency, but they have to do it.

Greg:

That’s incredibly tough because there’s the disconnect between procurement and marketing. Marketing might be happy. They spent all that time and effort with the homework, getting them to understand their business and then in 3 years’ time you would change that?

Like any marriage it’s going to take you a while to get over that honeymoon period and really get into it and then you change. It’s a shame the marketing people don’t have more influence over that decision.

Darren:

They’ll try and stand up to them. In a couple of cases they were forced all the way to go to pitch—‘we don’t want to, we’re being forced to do it’. Here’s the single biggest risk for the incumbent agency; they didn’t want to do it but then somebody came along with the new shiny thing. Whereas the incumbent, not rested on their laurels but played to what they thought were their strengths and talked about what they’d done in the past.

And somebody comes along with this new dashboard and marketers go ‘oh, that’s nice’ and completely forget about the relationship. How do you overcome that?

Greg:

I’m not sure I have the answer to that. That’s a human trait. It’s not the brief but they’ve seen the new, shiny and sexy and they may just want to go with something new. But as the incumbent you need to ask yourself ‘what haven’t we shown them that the market is going to show them?’

Everyone’s going to have a shiny new toy or the latest thing. So, you have to go ‘here’s what we’re doing’ but you’ve still got to showcase some of those other areas because otherwise you’re just going to be judged on same old, same old and you’re screwed really.

Darren:

And even if you don’t have it you say, ‘some people are doing this but it’s a waste of money’.

Greg:

Blocking strategies—exactly right.

Darren:

When you’re in a pitch with an incumbent how well did you leverage the existing relationship?

Greg:

Totally. I would say every client meeting is part of our pitch process. I’d gather the whole team together. If you’ve got warning or you know it’s coming you say ‘this is what you normally present; what’s the extra stuff, our extra narrative, where’s the sizzle, the new creative stuff? Have they visited Google’s campus lately? What’s all the other stuff in the beauty pageant that you know someone else might bring out?’ So, you’ve got to have a strategy around that.

Darren:

The danger is a lot of people think the pitch and especially the tender process is the be all and end all. In actual fact there are so many ways you can influence that can’t you?

Greg:

Totally. You say I can influence this level, I need someone else to influence this other level and how are we leveraging all those other relationships at various levels? And everyone who has an influence in that process—what have we done to have an impact on them?

Darren:

I know you’re also very good at leveraging the relationships with the media to know what’s going on.

Greg:

Totally. I learnt that many years ago particularly from people in Melbourne. When I moved to Melbourne, I didn’t know anybody and there were various competitors who had such strong relationships and I knew that Harold Mitchell could definitely ring up Channel7 and I didn’t have that leverage.

So, my first few months were all about building that relationship. I’m not Harold Mitchell obviously but what else can we do, how can we do it differently around that? As you say, the media are wonderful partners so how else can we work with them?

Darren:

It’s interesting you described media as wonderful partners because I’ve heard media agencies say they’re trying to keep media owners away from their client.

Greg:

That’s silly, insecure. Why would you do that? I would make it better. We can do more together. What else can we do to add value to this relationship and enhance it? But I think that’s insecurity.

Darren:

So, you go down a path of facilitating relationship rather than controlling it?

Greg:

Totally—make it better, bring them together. What are the other assets they may have that you may want to access too?

Darren:

But does that apply just to the more traditional media like the TV networks. Some agencies have inferred that the Facebooks and the Googles of the world are dangerous because of their power and influence; they could squeeze them out of the market.

They’re starting to do their own trade. You can buy direct client; you don’t have to go through a media agency.

Greg:

I guess it depends on whether you believe in the skill set that you have. I’ve always believed it’s better to have that open valuable relationship with the client. You introduced them; you foster and nurture it and are involved in the process.

They have incredible resources, the Googles and Facebooks of the world. The number of workshops I’ve done at Google are amazing—sandbox events, joint things, and we’ve sent clients on study tours across to their campuses and things like that. I couldn’t do that without them so I’m very much ‘bring it on, work together’.

Darren:

Do you think it’s because you do have that attitude that the relationship is one of collaboration?

Greg:

I think so, yeah.

Darren:

Whereas if you’re a bit, ‘I don’t want them getting their hooks into my client’.

Greg:

Exactly right. And I see people like that; they have the relationship and keep them with closed arms. I just think it’s not very smart.

Darren:

I have actually seen that happen in the U.S.; an agency literally surrounding one of their clients at a conference to physically build a barrier from other agencies and consultants and companies approaching them. I was thinking is that the President of the United States with the Secret Service? There was this barrier.

You were in New York for 7 years. Did you notice it was a lot more defensive or protective?

Greg:

You’re right because if you went to enough up fronts you would have enough resources there to make sure you tagged each client and that a competitor couldn’t sneak in there. It’s just a different strategy. I have seen that.

But you’re at Cannes with a client and you see a competitor and back in the day you see them talking with your client. You’ve got to be up for that and talk away.

Darren:

I think you just look incredibly insecure.

Greg:

Are you trying to break it up whereas I would be confident in what you’re doing. But then again don’t be naive and just think Henry’s going to be there, what story could he be telling, how can we block that or improve that? Have your eyes open to know that situation could create opportunities down the track.

Darren:

That makes me think of another point which is that a lot of agencies think that new business starts when they get the request to participate. For you where does it start?

Greg:

It doesn’t stop. Here’s my little bugbear. The media people go to all these media events and they all talk to each other. I say ‘go and talk to the clients’. They could be a prospect tomorrow, they could be reviewing so don’t stay in your little agency cluster. Get out, mingle, talk, engage, connect so that when you meet the client it’s not like a blind date. You’re actually constantly networking, talking.

Darren:

You never know when a client’s going to be open, so you build those relationships.

Greg:

You never know and also, you’ve just got to be there. Every opportunity is every day—it doesn’t stop.

Darren:

Going back to the actual pitch itself, the criticism of the media pitch is that it often gets bogged down in the detail which becomes very dry. It’s like the old days of media and creative—of the hour you’d get 55 minutes on the creative and then here come the Excel spreadsheets.

Greg:

Totally. I’d always have a strategy. They’d say, ‘Sparrow, you’ve got 10 minutes’, but I knew it would be 3 so I’d get to the story, the sizzle reel or the ideas coming to life. I knew that I’d get to those quickly. There was no preamble; you had to just jump in and you want it to be memorable too, right?

Darren:

Now you’ve got two hours.

Greg:

Sometimes more.

Darren:

So, how do you fill that without reverting to the Excel spreadsheet that shows by picking non-peak day parts we can reduce your CPM by…?

Greg:

I think that’s the trap. If someone gives you 3 hours the normal thing is, you would fill 3 hours. I don’t think you need to fill the 3 hours. It’s what’s your story? What’s the benefit? What’s the value and what are you delivering on the business? And if that doesn’t need 3 hours then so be it.

You can just make it more interactive—how you engage the client in a separate conversation around what more could you do or what’s the real brief. What’s the thinking behind the brief? What’s the real goal? Sometimes just listening to the client and asking those open questions.

Darren:

One of the things I always liked, and I remember it to this day is that you were very good at bringing media to life as far as fitting it into the consumer’s day. You used to tell the story; ‘you wake up, do this, the radio on, driving to work’.

Greg:

Do people still do that? A day in the life—it used to work.

Darren:

No, they go for the big numbers rather than the small insights, but the small insights lead to the big strategic idea.

Greg:

We used to do the day in the life of and then you’d build the story and then at 7.30 we’re going to have a roadblock across all the networks.

Darren:

Maybe the boring part is you wake up, pick up your phone, and then for the next 12 hours you do nothing but stare at it.

Greg:

Exactly.

Darren:

Maybe that’s the problem.

Greg:

How do you tell the media story or journey in a compelling way now? Most people just go with charts-that’s pretty mundane.

Darren:

It doesn’t bring it to life in a way that the marketer can relate to. We’ve seen a lot of pitches, especially media pitches and I have to say they do immediately go to the detail. And yet the relationship is about building shared values, expectations, and trust and that’s a big issue.

Greg:

The number of times where people would bring all the analysis work for the plan, and the runs, the cost per 1000—as you say, all the detail and want to show that. I’d say, ‘kill me now’. If that’s how you’re going to spend the time with the client—very dry.

Now, if someone wants to know that I’m happy to show that. Put it in the back and if someone asks here it is; everything you want to know—we’ve done it all—here they are. But you don’t lead with that.

Darren:

Do you get into profiling people; those that like the big picture, those that like the detail?

Greg:

Of course—profile them, personality types, where they’ve come from—I’d stalk them if I had to. I wouldn’t be outside their house of course.

Darren:

As a consultant we have often said to agencies, ‘you can ask us any question you like’. And we get very few agencies asking us about what’s the client like.

Greg:

I’d ask can you provide a profile of each of the client attendees, what they’re looking for, or even their names.

Darren:

So, I can stalk them on LinkedIn.

Greg:

Totally. Everyone I meet I connect with on LinkedIn—I would naturally do that.

Darren:

You’re a networker. But what I’m saying is the reason you’ve got such a strong reputation for your business building ability is that you do these things without thinking.

Greg:

They’re natural. If you meet with somebody you connect with them and then you hopefully start to build a relationship with that person. Surely, when you meet them, hopefully in a business or personal scenario, you have a relationship with them and you’re in a better place.

Darren:

Absolutely.

Greg:

It’s like a blind date. Blind dates normally don’t work.

Darren:

So, what do you see are the characteristics of a great pitch?

Greg:

Great, compelling story that brings the benefits to life. What are your benefits? What’s in it for your client? Back in the day they used to bring a PowerPoint and it would be 100’s of pages. We’d have 60 minutes and there were 300 slides here. I didn’t ask for slides and you’ve given me slides.

What are the benefits of those slides? There are no benefits to the client—that slide gets thrown out. Why do we have to show this chart?

Darren:

Evidence of industry—it can go in the document.

Greg:

It can go in the appendices. So, compelling story, bring the benefits to life, have chemistry. How are you going to build that chemistry? I always think about the introductions and that chemistry is really important. How are you going to do that?

Some people just jump straight in and don’t even introduce the team—crazy shit.

Darren:

The 3 biggest mistakes we’ve seen; the 1st is that the CEO or MD brings the whole team in and then talks for the whole time while they just sit there as wall props. You’re going who are these people, what do they do?

The next one is that all of the team talk and talk and talk but at no point do they actually ask the client anything; there’s no way of getting any engagement. The 3rd one is—we had an all-male team direct all the questions to the only man on the client side and ignore the 8 women that were on the panel.

The 1-hour chemistry session finished after about 25 minutes and as I walked them out the 3 men from the media agency said, ‘that went really well’ and I said, ‘do you think so?’.

Greg:

It’s really basic stuff; build rapport, connect with the client, listen, ask open questions to build that relationship—some really basic stuff that people don’t do. It’s really bizarre.

Darren:

There’s an opportunity to start a helpline.

Greg:

Totally. Can you please ring now 1800? The other thing is when you’re at a pitch scenario people sort of lose the plot. This craziness comes over them and they get so into it and sometimes you need to step back. Step back a bit and take a look at the bigger picture—what are you telling me?

I’ve seen people present for 10 minutes and I’ve gone I didn’t understand anything you said. And they’re a specialist in performance or search and I go ‘I’ve been in this industry 30 plus years and I don’t understand any of what you’ve just told me’.

Darren:

Because it’s all jargon.

Greg:

It’s all jargon, graphs and I’m sorry you’ve lost me, and I work here.

Darren:

We also get that as common feedback because marketers fall for the trap of thinking that media is simple and it’s not. It’s incredibly complex.

Greg:

Yes.

Darren:

That’s why if they think ‘you just find the audience, buy the media, reach the audience (65% of them, 3+).

Greg:

Tick, done. No.

Darren:

In actual fact the nuance is so complex. They’re looking for people that make it simple. They don’t want someone to make it complex.

Greg:

And I would say most of the people in media make it complex because they’re in it. They live and breathe it. I often say to people, ‘that’s what you’re presenting but why would the client remember it?’ What makes that memorable or even interesting?

Darren:

Einstein quotes are passé, but he said, ‘genius is making the complex simpler but not necessarily simple’.

Greg:

I think that’s spot on.

Darren:

Clients need to remember that. If they can find an agency that can explain how they’re going to help them fix their problem in a way that’s simple to understand.

Greg:

Hire them now.

Darren:

It’s rare isn’t it?

Greg:

Totally rare—most people can’t do that. Only the really good people can do that.

Darren:

That’s the other thing and you’ve talked about this before; there’s a difference between the pitch team and the team that’s going to work on your business. A lot of clients want to see the team that’s working on their business but in your experience how often do have that team just sitting in the agency?

Greg:

Well you don’t. With your margins and the cost pressures no one has spare teams. Nearly everyone is under-resourced; they’re all stretched so you don’t have the dream team just waiting there. It’s not realistic or possible. Therefore, you will have some people who are probably great presenters but it’s really finding the balance.

If, in the pitch, the client has said they want to meet the people who will work on their business maybe the way you utilise those people is different. They may not be comfortable on their feet. They may not be fantastic at the beauty pageant, so you really have to think that through. I would have a different strategy for that.

Darren:

There is still a famous trading director who got wheeled out in a suit and tie, totally uncomfortable, and was made to do a word-perfect presentation. And this is a pitch from 10 years ago.

But to this day I think if they’d been brought out and allowed to do a presentation in their own words (even if that’s a bit Marc Ritson—we all know what that means) it would have been so much more compelling because they knew the market inside and out. They knew the names of every sales director of every media outlet.

Greg:

We had a lady at JWT who was the best TV buyer in Australia and she worked on the Ford business. She hated to present but she was the best. She’d say, ‘Sparrow, I can’t stand up’ and I’d go, ‘I don’t want you to stand up. If you need to sit down, sit down’. ‘Sparrow, I don’t want to put the suit on’. ‘That’s o.k. I’m not forcing you to do any of that because you are the best TV buyer in Australia. Just show them that in your real, authentic way.’

When I’d walk into the office, ‘have we moved those spots out of the low rating programme into the news?’ ’Sparrow, I did that yesterday’. She had already done that.

Darren:

An RFP can’t communicate that.

Greg:

It can’t, which is a shame.

Darren:

80 pages of answering questions.

Greg:

And that’s the shame because I would ask how do you add the human insightful factor to that when it’s probably done in a spreadsheet or it’s online or it has to be a certain type size in a certain theme? It’s a real shame because are you then getting the best people?

Darren:

What I like is every time you talk about pitching you talk about storytelling–what’s the story?

Greg:

What’s the narrative behind that?

Darren:

That holds it all together and will stay in the client’s mind.

Greg:

What they will remember tomorrow? A client’s going to 4 agencies and each one is 3 hours and imagine you’re the last one so at the end of the day what are they going to remember? It’s not another Excel spreadsheet, it’s really not.

Darren:

That’s right. And they won’t even remember the nuances of strategy or the piece of research or any of that.

Greg:

I had drinks with a client after they’d been to a pitch scenario and I asked the client, what do you remember? Unfortunately, they remembered that I had really good muffins or it was a really good video, or the receptionist was nice. Terrible but wow they didn’t remember all those spreadsheets. They remembered the lovely receptionist who was warm and friendly and the lovely muffin.

Darren:

That’s why I find the agency that has the story or point of view and spends 3 hours building that story is the one who will get remembered for that. The other trap is trying to cover everything. They’ve asked you 180 questions in the RFP; you can’t revisit those in 3 hours.

Greg:

And why would you want to? Imagine the client sitting through 4 agencies and by the 2nd the agencies going ‘we’re going to take you through all the answers now’—it’s like kill me.

Darren:

So, there is an opportunity here isn’t there because very soon you’ll be available.

Greg:

It’s not rocket science. This is not something people don’t know; just taking that to action is really difficult so people just go into what they know and what they’re comfortable with.

Darren:

Your insight that people go a bit crazy, it is funny when you phone the agency CEO, ‘oh, it’s Darren, I just wonder…’. ’Yeah, yeah, we’re in’ and I haven’t told you which client or what for or how big.

Greg:

All the questions you should ask. When’s the brief happening; how long have we got? No, I find it quite a bizarre concept. They go into this weird crazy zone.

Darren:

Look I’ve just noticed the time. We’ve run out of time but thank you. Thanks for dropping by and having a chat and all the best for the future.

Greg:

No worries. Thank you.

Darren:

Just before we go; what’s the biggest disappointment you’ve ever had in your career?

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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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