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The 5 biggest mistakes made by agencies when pitching

Mistakes by agencies

This post is by Julian Barrans, Business Director, Asia for TrinityP3. Julian has worked as a business, marketing and branding professional for over 30 years, with more than half of that time in the APAC region, working both the client-side and agency side.

This is the second of two posts around the topic of ‘What are the 5 biggest mistakes made when Pitching’. This first one focuses on Clients, which you can read here if you missed it!

This one focuses on Agencies.

So, what are the big mistakes we see Agencies make in Pitching, especially in Asia?

1. Agencies too keen to win a Pitch… at any cost!

I can only remember a handful of agencies either saying they were too busy with their existing clients or, they didn’t think the client profile was right for their agency.

The vast majority of agencies are biting your arm off to get involved, often before they’ve even heard who the client is! Some aspects of that are, that, business is tough and agency business development/leadership are chasing numbers all the time. As fast as clients come in, others are leaving through the revolving door.

The more worrying aspect is that the agency is often being asked to join a huge long line of hopeful agencies to Pitch, sometimes more than ten. Now you’d have to ask yourself if you might have better odds taking some of what it would cost to take part and buy some lottery tickets instead. Or just recognising that it’s ridiculous and a clear statement that the client is on a fishing expedition and doesn’t really know what it wants!

Why would any self-respecting agency waste precious resources and get involved in that?

Which Pitch to be involved in should be thought through for agency ‘fit’, the likelihood of winning and therefore whether it is worth committing resources to. Also, would it be motivating for your hard-working, often stretched top talent, that you’ll need on this?

A lot of this is driven by the bad behaviour of clients of course, but the agencies don’t do themselves any favours by rewarding such bad behaviour time and time again.

2. Agencies don’t listen to the client’s needs

They just don’t listen, preferring to talk at the client instead, but that’s why we have one mouth and two ears, surely!

It’s therefore very frustrating behaviour to experience what the agency does, when the client asks for an hour meeting that involves 30 minutes of question time, to be confronted with an hour presentation instead, with no question time built in.

Then also, the number of times I see agency credentials presentations that showcase creative work they want to show, that has little resemblance to any work done that is actually relevant to the clients’ challenges being faced. Yes, you’ve demonstrated creative ability, but that’s what agencies do for a living anyway!

What do they think they will achieve? They’ve not even recognised the client is distinct, with distinct challenges and needs.

3. The Agency’s own brand story doesn’t differentiate them

What do most agencies show in their credentials presentation? Usually, there’ll be a list of current (plus previous clients, if it adds creative value or category experience), the geography of office locations, key agency people/agency structure/capabilities, creative reel and awards won…..then maybe something about the client brief, etc.

But every agency is pretty much doing the same thing. So, the only standout is really focused on work done for some other client, nothing about what makes the agency unique in how they position themselves….in how they work, how they respond to clients’ briefs, how their understanding of the consumer adds value, or whatever.

It’s quite surprising that agencies don’t position themselves well, when in fact they are trying to persuade the client to let them position the client’s brand!

I remember seeing an agency present a process they use to help a client’s brand achieve stronger focus and attraction to their target audience. I asked if they’d ever used it on their own agency brand. They didn’t know what to say, as it had never occurred to them.

4. The Agency often plays the man and not the ball

In so many situations, an agency ignores the request from the client to only field the team that will be working on their business. Obviously, this can be difficult, as the right individuals aren’t always available at relatively quick notice. You just have to get on with it if you want to secure the business.

That doesn’t mean that it makes sense to bring in your ‘pitch team’ or regional or global agency individuals whom the client will never see again after this meeting. It also, in no way fits the brief of showing the team that will work on the account and becomes quickly obvious.

The session is usually slated as a chemistry meeting where the client is looking to see the contribution and active interaction from all team members. Now, this is difficult enough in Asia where seniority reigns and trying to get the mid and junior levels to contribute is challenging enough in itself.

With the involvement of regional and global individuals, this ends up with absolute paralysis of the local team, as the senior visitors command the stage looking to engage and ingratiate themselves with the most senior client.

Sometimes it’s all too clear that the agency team don’t even know each other, let alone demonstrate an aura of team dynamics where questions/thoughts are effortlessly moved from one to the other to show the client their teamwork or ability to interact seamlessly with the client team.

5. Give them what they need, not what you think they want

This does sound crazy, but it’s surprising how this happens. Maybe it comes from a desire to stand out as the most creative agency, but we’ve seen pitches where it looks like they’ve not even read the brief as it just doesn’t go anywhere near to giving what the client wants, needs or expects.

When I worked in agencies in Europe and Asia I followed the mantra that as a minimum you give the client what they need (which meets their brief). Then, if you really want to push the envelope you have a really good chance to take the client on that journey. They may not go for it but they’ve bought into two things that you’re saying about the agency (and team).

Firstly, that you understand their challenges and needs and deliver work on brief, so they’ll feel you’re never going to let them down if they choose to work with you.

Secondly, you take them to a place they hadn’t thought of creatively with their brand positioning….maybe frighten them a bit, but also inspire them. You have the beginnings of a great working relationship, rather than just do the latter and look like you may not understand the brand well enough and are not the right agency for the client to trust their brand with.

A few last thoughts…

Well, there you have 5 mistakes to try and avoid if you’re an agency heading into a Pitch that you want to win. Also, if you’re a client, hope you enjoyed this and watch out for any agency making these mistakes.

If you need help navigating the Pitch process landscape and agency mistakes such as the above and the previous blog which covered 5 client mistakes….just remember….help is at hand!

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

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    Julian has worked as a business, marketing and branding professional for over 30 years, with more than half of that time in the APAC region, working both client side and agency side. A creative business leader who truly understands the importance of team building, working with the right partners as well as making decisions based on sound business strategy and practices.

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