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The Pitch conundrum: To Pitch, or not? Is that even the right question?

pitch conundrum

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.

It’s all too common to see global, regional or local clients announce they are going to put out their account to Pitch!

There’s a flurry of excitement among the many agencies jockeying for a position to be considered, along with the incumbent. The media go crazy trying to get the inside story or be the first to report the news of it. The Pitch consultants hope to get in on the action too if it isn’t already too late to do so.

The Marketing team face a combination of excitement around the prospect of seeing some great ideas put forward by agencies for their brand(s), as well as dread, as they already don’t have enough hours in the day, let alone the energy, to go through a time-draining Pitch process.

The Procurement team are looking to tick off another supplier category, where they’ll look to drive costs down further with a new contract, with lower fees for the same work or more work for the same fee!

Then there are the other clients who don’t go to Pitch.

They have a long-standing relationship(s) with their agency(s) and see no reason to change. They feel they are getting ‘good value’ and good work, so why change for change’s sake!

Maybe procurement have carried out ‘a nip and a tuck’ here and there, or maybe marketing has added some specialist digital/social media agency into the mix, but mostly the lead agency(s) remain the same.

There are clearly scenarios that may suggest either of the above approaches….to Pitch, or not to Pitch (or really change anything much at all), are the right thing to do. Or are there?

Is there a better question to ask if the circumstances actually suggest there is another way, to move forward?

A better way forward altogether!

Let’s first explore the conundrum, the two options….to Pitch, or not to Pitch, before delving into an alternative way to question and look at the situation.

1. Why does an account go to Pitch?

Pitches are called for many reasons.

It may be that Procurement has a protocol in place that insists that the business is bid for every x years (which could be 1, 2, 3 or 5 years for example). This is nothing to do with the performance of the incumbent, but rather a hunt for discounts/savings or a belief that relationships should not be allowed to get too strong, as they may get in the way of a desired commercial outcome.

It could also be that there is a belief within marketing or the greater client, that the agency is not performing, whether based on performance appraisals, or subjective aspects, of the work, the team and the relationship in play. If it’s terrible you should certainly be thinking of a Pitch.

Often a client will state that they believe the time has come to see the creative ideas (or media ideas) that the best agencies have for their brand(s), so call a review and Pitch so they can choose their next agency going forward.

Interestingly, during the usually extensive Pitch process – as it should be if you’re going to do it right – the decision on which agency is pretty much made up by the time the chemistry session phase is completed! No creative work has been seen yet!

In an article by Forbes, it was stated that 84% of clients have picked a winner before an actual creative Pitch takes place, so it’s clear that less than 20% rests on the creative Pitch aspect itself. The winning agency from the chemistry phase would have to be pretty poor creatively to mess it up if they are leading up till that point.

2. When should you not Pitch?

Well, you shouldn’t Pitch if the agency is performing well.

It’s often the end result with a Pitch that the incumbent doesn’t get retained. In fact, in 80% of Pitch situations, ‘the grass is always greener’ and a new agency is selected, despite a great relationship with the incumbent???

So, you need to really ask yourself if you are happy with your agency, then what is driving the question of going to Pitch? Is it curiosity, shaking up things, or saving money to plug a budget gap?

There are alternative approaches to a Pitch to achieve these, so don’t Pitch!

If you’ve just walked into the CMO role don’t just decide to Pitch to show your boss you’re making an instant impact or to bring in your favourite agency and the trusty account head who will have your back through thick and thin!

You shouldn’t Pitch if there doesn’t appear to be any issues with the agency and their work! There are plenty of other things you can do to impress if you have a 90 Day Plan in place!

Is it your procurement counterpart that’s driving the Pitch requirement re: contracts ending? There is a large disruption factor to Pitching and a cost that comes with the agency change in lost efficiency, activity continuity and brand knowledge, if an agency change happens. Is there a better way to manage both marketing’s and procurement’s needs, rather than a Pitch?

Also, if your team is super busy (no doubt along with your agency) on the all-important brand activity plan, any Pitch thoughts should be delayed until a more sensible time, for both the team’s and business’ performance, sake.

Pitching can be incredibly disruptive all around. Let’s face it, the teething pains with a new agency are never something to look forward to!

Why it may be smarter to take a different approach altogether?

You’ll probably agree that the above decision to Pitch, or not to Pitch, is fraught with some challenges, not just in why in the first place, but also how to get the best outcome, given all things considered.

At TrinityP3 we’ve spent a lot of time developing an approach that helps address the conundrum of ‘to Pitch, or not to Pitch?’. It’s a best of both worlds approach which we call an ‘ Agency Commercial Review’.

This different approach to the question allows you to evaluate the client/agency relationship from both a commercial perspective, which produces the benchmarked financial analysis information needed for procurement in order to develop a new future-looking revised contract, plus the productivity aspect to understand what works well, what doesn’t and how to fix that to take things to a new level, going forward.

On the latter point, we’ve recently helped a financial services client, who thought they probably needed to go to Pitch, only to discover that the negative attitude that was driving them down that road was actually very limited and distorting the client/agency relationship.

Our methodology was able to pinpoint the pain points and provide the solutions to move the relationship and productivity to a new level.

The client was so happy to have avoided making a big and costly mistake!

Can you imagine, avoiding all the work, disruption and cost that a Pitch involves, where you risk future performance too. Instead, you invest a lot less time and cost, then take an existing agency situation that needs work (but is not broken), make it better, more cost-effective, more productive and more future proof, into the bargain.

A final thought….

I hope that looking at this classic conundrum and thinking in a different way, where there’s a different approach or path to take, has raised a few thoughts about what you might do next time around when you are considering the whole Pitch situation.

Though we have a lot of experience, with our processes and methodologies, to help clients Pitch, it’s becoming increasingly satisfying to help the client/agency move to the next level, rather than be part of breaking something up…..that shouldn’t be!

The latter, sometimes, cannot be avoided, let’s face it, but it can be very painful for all concerned.

Sometimes starting off with an ‘anti-Pitch’ mentality might lead you to look at an ‘Agency Commercial Review’, as a better way forward for your client/agency relationship.

So, if you do decide to avoid the ‘To Pitch’ side of the conundrum and don’t want to just do ‘nothing’, but are interested to take a different approach, you know where to find us as we’re happy to help you take your client/agency relationship to a higher level, both commercially and productivity-wise.

If, however, you enjoy the ‘To Pitch’ side of the conundrum, we can at least help you navigate that process and outcome too, minimising the risk/maximising the reward, given the prevailing circumstances, as best as possible!

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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    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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