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Three reasons you should never publicise the agencies participating in a pitch

Never publicise agencies in a pitch

This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder and Global CEO 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 optimising marketing productivity and performance across marketing agency and supplier rosters.

There is always a lot of interest in live pitches. The trade media love a pitch because there will be a winner and lots of losers. It is a story that writes itself. Agencies are interested in who is in the pitch and why. And the industry generally has a morbid curiosity on the whole process.

While there are some pitch consultants that are happy to release the names of the agencies and get publicity for themselves for managing the process this is not something we will ever do for three very good reasons I will share here.

Generally a professional procurement team will never release the names or even the number of agencies participating. We often find pitches run by marketers will have the list of invited agencies made public, possibly to have validated by the industry the quality of the agencies invited to pitch.

1. It will encourage other agencies to try to push themselves onto the pitch

We have a detailed process for developing a search brief to develop a very clear and detailed definition of the ideal outcome of the search and selection process. This means that throughout the process there is a reference to a successful outcome. It also means in undertaking the search process we can ensure we look for agencies that match the ideal outcome.

But occasionally, either because the marketer goes against advice or because the participating agencies go against the confidentiality agreements, it is leaked early in the process that not only is there a pitch but how many and which agencies are participating. Why this this a bad thing?

It is the habit of many agencies to constantly compare themselves to their competitors and they will often have very defined viewpoints on their self assessed strengths and weaknesses. When they see the participating agencies they will often then try and push their way into the process based on their opinions of how they compare to those agencies already selected to participate.

This is a huge issue for the industry because the search and selection process is not about finding the ‘best’ agency, it is about finding the ‘best fit’ agency. After all if it was the best agency then an agency named the Agency of the Year in any market would always be in the pitch list.

But trying to explain to an agency that yes they may be better than one of the agencies of the list for certain attributes or capabilities, but over all they are not the best fit for this client is a difficult conversation.

2. Agencies on the list may focus on beating their competition rather than winning the pitch on merit

This was a lesson hard learnt and one I never want to repeat, which is why we are so diligent in trying to maintain confidentiality around the agencies invited into the pitch process. It was very early in the days of offering pitch management and all of the agencies were requesting to know who else was participating and so with the marketer’s permission we informed the agencies under their confidentiality agreement.

Then the problems started as rumours about various agencies on the pitch started to emerge and come to the marketer’s attention. These included rumours regarding the future of the Executive Creative Director and other key personnel within some of the participating agencies.

Interestingly, one of the best ways for these rumours to be distributed was through the various sales representatives that service the industry such as print, media and others. It even went as far as stories appearing in the trade media in the context of the pitch process, which is extremely unprofessional as this is one thing we should be able to manage.

The bottom line was that we spent far too much time debunking these rumours and calming the marketer’s anxiety as each one raised its head. The irony is that we had a fair idea of the source as there were no rumours about one of the agencies in the mix, but of course it was impossible to prove.

Rather than focusing on their own performance, clearly one agency chose to play their competitors, to the point that in the credentials presentation they had created and presented a chart that ‘demonstrated’ their strengths against their competitors’ weaknesses. The strategy was not successful but it is why we work to make sure it does not happen.

3. The unsuccessful agencies do not deserve to be publicly labelled losers

When the pitch is complete and the successful agency is negotiated and contracted then the best trade media announcement will say either “Advertiser is pleased to announce the appointment of Agency B” or “Advertiser is pleased to confirm the reappointment of incumbent Agency A”.

Instead, you will often read reports that will list all of the participating agencies who are positioned as losing the pitch. Of course in any pitch there is usually one winner and then many losers. But are they losers? As in point one, it is about the way your frame the agencies and the results. Does an advertiser appoint the ‘best’ agency or the ‘best fit’ agency?

From our perspective all of the agencies invited to participate in the process have the capabilities and expertise to meet the requirements of the brief we develop upfront. After all, we would not recommend them otherwise. So the process is about finding the agency and marketer relationship that is the best fit. So, it is not that the unsuccessful agencies lost, but that there was one agency that was a better fit.

Now I am not naïve, it is clear that not winning the account is a loss of potential financial gain, but my concern is that when an agency is reported as ‘losing’ a number of pitches then the industry starts to think there is something wrong with the agency and this can have significant commercial impact including an increased turnover of staff or even clients questioning their relationship.

Therefore, to avoid the unsuccessful agencies being negatively penalised for participating in the pitch process we work to keep the list of agencies confidential. Having said that it is amazing how often the list of participating agencies comes to light and ends up being published. Clearly with the number of people involved in a pitch process it is impossible to tack down where the leaks occur.

To tell or not to tell

There are schools of thought that for complete transparency the participating agencies should be provided, but hopefully we have demonstrated that the negatives outweigh the benefits of transparency.

We believe the process should be managed to deliver a sustainable and successful outcome and cause the least disruption and harm to all participants, including all of the agencies.

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

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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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