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Managing Marketing: What’s Wrong With RFPs?

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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.

Gary Nissim is the Managing Director of Indago Digital and the author of the guide, “How to avoid choosing the wrong digital agency in 27 steps”. Gary says he’s taken the best parts (and learnt from the worst parts) of more than 500 RFPs to provide all a marketer needs to create a seamless Request For Proposal that will help find and appoint a fully aligned agency partner. He also questions how his guide stands up to the perspective of a pitch consultant and turns the conversation on the host with a surprising outcome.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with Gary Nissim, the Managing Director of Indago Digital, and author of The Guide: How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Digital Agency in 27 Steps. Welcome, Gary.

Gary:

Thanks, Darren. Thanks for having me on the show.

Darren:

Well, look, it’s a pleasure because I have to say when I heard that you’d published this guide, I was intrigued to see from an agency’s point of view, what you saw as best practice. Is that the purpose of the guide?

Gary:

Yeah, I think so. I think probably the starting point was an element of frustration. Being involved in a number of digital pitches or digital marketing pitches, which I felt could have been run better. It probably actually took me about two years to write.

It was one of those projects that you never really touch and you struggle to get around to. And so, I think it was born out of frustration and then in the end, I wrote it because generally, I want to be involved in pitches that provide a better outcome for both the client and the agency.

Darren:

Well, look, there’s a lot of complaints about pitching, I call it pitch bitching because yeah, from our perspective, the whole reason we exist is trying to run a better process. But of course, we’d be lucky to cover maybe 5% of all the pitches ─ maybe I’m being optimistic. We might only cover 1% of all the pitches in the marketplace.

What are some of the frustrations that stimulated you to actually put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard?

Gary:

Wow, I’m trying to think how I would … where to storm.

Darren:

No names, no names.

Gary:

Never any names. I’m too intelligent for that. I think probably the first thing, probably would be timelines actually. I think often, timelines that are very tight, whether that would be to actually produce the documentation itself. And typically, the timeframe that’s always tighter is actually the initiation of the relationship.

You know, pitch ends on a certain day, the relationship has to start a matter of weeks later. And so, I think one of the key frustrations would probably be timelines.

And then probably the second frustration, I think, often, the client’s not asking the right questions. So, actually the responses, I would say more often than not, I don’t believe we’re hitting the requirements of that client.

Darren:

It’s interesting you should say that because it’s one of the things that we see is that clients are very good at knowing what they want when they see it, but really do struggle sometimes with articulating what they need.

Gary:

Yeah, totally. No, I totally agree with that. I’ve got a question for you and I’m sorry to kind of turn this on its head ─ obviously, putting this document in front of the country’s greatest pitch consultant, I’m keen to get a bit of feedback from you. I mean, do you think it was all encompassing, do you think it was a bit basic? Were there key things missing from the document? What do you think, Darren?

Darren:

Look, Gary, I think I read through it and I thought it’s very much common sense from my perspective. Because we run between 25 and 30 plus pitches a year. And so, from my perspective … and also many different types of pitches. We don’t just have one way of running a pitch.

I saw in this document, someone who was seeing what I’d consider probably the default way of selecting an agency and was trying to give some common-sense approach to how you believed it should be done. So, from that perspective, I thought it was worthwhile.

Also, it was fascinating for me because it’s been over 20 years since I was on the agency side. And so, to also see from your perspective as an agency person, I think you wrote somewhere you’ve responded to more than 500 RFPs, that it was interesting to see the way you experienced that.

Gary:

Interesting. I think common sense totally. And I couldn’t agree with you any more. I don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking in the document. But I’d suggest that common sense is the most important thing when you are delivering a typical RFP.

You asked me why I wrote it and I’ve kind of refined my answer. Totally, there was frustration. I think if I look at my experience over the years of writing RFPs or writing a response to a tender document, is I think I lost my way to be honest with you. I think we started to respond to documents in a fashion that was too technical.

If you look at what we do from a digital marketing perspective, it’s often quite a technical response. And we were getting to the point where we used to win a lot of clients. Our success rate at Indago was very high. And then something changed in the industry and whether it was us and the way we pitch, whether it was the contacts on the client side, whether it was the industry itself, I’m not quite sure.

But we started to lose our conversion rates. And so, we started looking at the way we were actually pitching. And we started thinking, well, what mistakes are we making? And that led me on to then producing this, because I think one of the things that we lost sight of was the people that we were actually presenting to.

We were going in with a highly technical presentation based off of what we knew was a great product, but often, it was missing the mark because the end client actually just didn’t understand what we were presenting. So, we started looking a little more internally about how we were pitching, and that was the final push for me to actually then write this document.

I mean, that’s why one of the key things that I’ve got in there, it’s really important that the agency understands who they’re talking to. If you’re talking to a technical audience, then you need a technical presentation. You know, if they’re data-led and detailed-led, it needs to be data and detail-led. But if it’s very top level, then that’s more creative. So, that probably is the key thing that pushed me over the line to finally getting this thing written.

Darren:

Look, it’s interesting you say that from my perspective, because I think there’s been a fundamental change in the last 20 years. And I probably noticed it about 10 years ago because in 2000, we had the tech bubble and technology with the promise of it impacting marketing was a huge, a huge Nirvana.

This is pre-Facebook remember, and Google was very, very infant in its development. And everyone suddenly was a digital agency. Digital agencies popped up everywhere and you had creative agencies and digital agencies. And what happened over time is that they started to merge on one level in that almost everyone had “digital capabilities.”

But what you still have today is some really deep technical abilities around the digital, let’s call it ecosystem. And then you have the ability to produce content and plan media channels in digital. And then you have the heavy lifting technology and still the two are quite apart.

That’s why in around 2010, we stopped talking about digital agencies and we called them technology agencies because they were the sorts of companies that could talk to the IT department within a client body and the marketing department, and talk to other creative agencies, and actually were the glue that held it all together.

Gary:

Yeah, I’d agree with that. We did a recent study where we looked for the clients that we’re trying to target or the people within the clients we’re trying to target; the decision makers. We looked at our current clients, we interviewed them and we did the old, what are their personas.

And you start speaking to these people and really, they don’t want to know the nitty gritty of how it works. They just want to know, is it going to work? They want those proof points, whether it be it social proof points, they want to see the thing in action.

So, actually, even though we have, and a lot of agencies have this beautiful underlying technology and process, they almost don’t care about that. It’s too detailed for them. They just want to understand are they going to get results, are they going to hit their KPIs.

And I think one of the other key things that we realised through this process of pitching and then getting client personas, is it going to be easy? We know that when we’re moving agency, typically an agency that you’re with has a lot of IP, sometimes in fact, more than the client has because they might’ve been working on the account longer than some of the client contacts. And they just want to know that this transition is going to be seamless and easy and painless.

You’re not going to see a massive drop in ROI, etc. And I think that’s another key thing that the RFP process needs to do, is make sure that it is as painless as possible.

Darren:

And I think what you just said there was the fact that digital for marketers became just the way of operating. So, they no longer wanted to know what was the magic under the surface. Just tell me that you can do the magic and give me the results I want.

I just want to pull you up and explore a bit around this idea of the RFP. Which is a request for proposal, which is a very traditional procurement approach. And what it would be is that you have a number of suppliers, you send them out an RFP, which is a request for proposal. Which to be compliant, they would respond to by answering all the boxes in a written form, they’d submit that, it’d be assessed.

There may or may be not a meeting around, then question and answers or presentation, and then they’d go into a negotiation with their preferred. Is that pretty much what you mean by an RFP or are there nuances to it that I’m missing or …?

Gary:

No, I think you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head. I mean, really, it’s a written document that one has to respond to, as you said, within a certain timeframe. Typically, most of the RFPs that we’re involved in also have some kind of presentation.

So, either it’s a two-stage where there’s a written document, which is submitted and then a presentation, or sometimes it goes straight through to the presentation. But yes, an RFP is pretty much exactly what you described.

Darren:

Okay. Because I personally, don’t believe that that’s the best way of selecting agencies. It’s a very good procurement process, but where you’re buying in many ways, a relationship, all that really tests is capability and not the alignment of values and ways of working together, which is so essential because we know that even the best agency in the world with a poor fitting chemistry with a client is not going to produce their best work.

Gary:

Exactly. And I’m keen to obviously understand where we think the RFP fails and more importantly, what would be a better option.

We talk around dating. Many of us have dated before. And the first impression is this is the person you’re going to marry, that you’re going to fall in love with. But very quickly, that can dissipate, maybe that first meeting was great. And I think if you look at the RFP process, really, you’re just dating someone very briefly and then making a decision to sign a contract with them for a year to five years.

To do that in a series of documents and maybe a couple of face-to-face meetings, I think it’s a very big decision to make with very little foundation. So, I totally agree with you, that the RFP process in itself is potentially faulty.

Darren:

And yet it is quite common, isn’t it? There are a lot of companies that use that procurement process, which can be used to procure everything from electricity to travel, to raw commodities to make widgets.

Gary:

Yeah. So, I think we both agree that RFPs, they are very procurement-focused. They have a place, but Darren, what do you think is the best process in your experience to find an agency?

Darren:

Well, I’d also like to, before we go there, Gary, explore the fact that the other problem with RFPs is that you can basically mislead, exaggerate, and lie in your written response, can’t you?

Gary:

I think we’re almost honest to a fault at Indago and me personally. And I think the reason I’m honest to a fault, is I always got caught lying. So, I realised that lying never suited me. The amount of time-

Darren:

Creative exaggeration then.

Gary:

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The amount of times that we come up against an agency ─ and I think I make reference to it in this document is … it’s artificial intelligence because it’s a buzzword, it’s programmatic, it’s whatever the buzz word is at the time.

And 9 times out of 10, artificial intelligence is a macro of best within an Excel document. You know, some kind of global procure technology, which again, we know is typically nothing more than something you can do on Microsoft.

So, we come across that the whole time. And actually, one of the points on the guide is if you’re buying into a technology and/or process, and that’s one of the deciding factors in choosing an agency, you need to delve deeper, you need to see it in action. You need to speak to the person who’s actually built this thing. You just can’t take it at face value.

So, yes, I would agree, probably not too dissimilar from award entries. But often, RFPs have an element of creativity, should we say.

Darren:

And look, I’m glad that you said that because I imagine it’s frustrating when you lose an RFP process to a competitor that you know doesn’t actually have the expertise that the client was supposedly was looking for.

Gary:

Totally. And the interesting thing about it is that you’re crazy to kind of say anything because I mean, obviously, to put down a competitor, especially after they’ve chosen to work with that competitor, it doesn’t benefit anyone. It just seems very bitter. So, you know, it is-

Darren:

Sour grapes.

Gary:

Yeah, totally. So, you just kind of sit there and you realise, but the problem is that when you next come up against that competitor, is that something that you have to answer before in the pitch process, you have to make reference to that, you have to have a piecing piece of tech because you know that’s going to be how they’re going to go in.

Which I think is the thing that we’ve always struggled with, is that how do you then counteract that argument when you come across them at a later date?

Darren:

Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? And look, the other problem I have and correct me if I’m wrong because I think you did address it in the guide, and that the guide is how to avoid choosing the wrong digital agency in 27 steps.

But the other part of an RFP is that it often asks for a financial proposal; what are you going to charge in fees. And if you’re in a pitch with potentially 6, 8, 10 other agencies, are you necessarily putting your best foot forward? And are you informed enough to be able to put a sustainable financial proposition in that proposal?

Gary:

Firstly, we wouldn’t pitch with that many agencies. We’re kind of funny about that. To go out to, I don’t know, five, eight agencies, to my mind seems crazy. I think firstly, from a client’s perspective, you need to do that pre-due diligence to find three to five would be what I think is the ideal number. I think firstly, because you’re wasting a lot of the agency’s time, but also your time.

I think also the less agencies that you have in the process, the more time they’re going to put into it, the better the response is going to be. So, that’d be answering that point.

When you talk about the financials, so often we’ll be asked to produce a media plan, some kind of full cost, a hundred percent of the costs for our fees with very little information. And I think that’s a massive problem. I think if you want an agency to come back to you with very detailed plans and financials, you need to give them a lot of information.

And 9 times out of 10, you don’t want to give that information out to multiple agencies because that’s IP that shouldn’t be shared. So, I do agree. I think that’s often a problem where you’re expecting information that actually can’t be produced by the RFP itself.

Darren:

So, you asked before about what my solution is. So, we actually work on the proposition. The first step is to get a very clear brief of what success looks like. So, we’ll spend a lot of time upfront actually getting a client to define exactly what it is that they’re trying to achieve in the process.

And the reason we do that is it’s very easy to get led astray by an agency, presenting some shiny new thing and suffering from fear of missing out along the way when it was never something that you’re interested in, in the first place. So, that’s the first step.

Then we would go to market and we would through our knowledge, our database, and other ways, put together a view of the market, including who’s working with competitors, who’s suitable primarily around capability, size, geography if those things are important. And we put together quite a detailed lengthy report on who we would recommend for consideration, the ones excluded because of competitive set, and also those that would possibly … because often, the client will recommend that they’d like to see agencies. And if we don’t think they’re suitable, we provide a reason why.

And we take them through that with the view to choosing six to eight at the most to get an RFI, which is from our perspective, case studies that prove the capabilities that they say they have in actual application with other clients.

Gary:

Okay. So, with the RFI, is that at the initial stage to where we just want to pick the final contenders for the RFP itself or for the next stage?

Darren:

Yeah, so RFI is request for information. That’s what we’re after. Please provide some case studies. If a client is looking for someone that has the ability to use something that’s relevant to you, actually can demonstrate using artificial intelligence to manage huge amounts of data, to provide a personalised online experience in real time ─ we would say, “Give us the case study that shows you’ve actually done it.”

And then from that, we’d go through that. The client would read those RFIs and we would then set up chemistry meetings. And we’d call them chemistry meetings because it’s an opportunity to meet and eyeball each other.

The interesting thing is human beings in the first 90 seconds have already made up their mind whether they like another group of people or not. And then we’ll spend the rest of the time collecting evidence for why their gut instinct was a certain way.

But it’s also an opportunity for agencies, we say to them, “Here’s your opportunity in the first 15 to 20 minutes to really reinforce why this would be a good relationship from your perspective, based on the information we’ve provided. Why should you be in this room and why should you be considered going forward?”

And then hopefully, there’s enough time for a conversation, Q&As, really explore, perhaps ask questions about some of the information put forward in the RFI; such as understanding any challenges for a particular case study or what were the lessons from a particular case study so that you get to feel each organisation and how those people in the room align.

Gary:

Well, on that, Darren, so when we’re involved in this process, as you said sometimes, there’s a presentation at the end, and we do a mix of, sometimes, we have the account managers or directors supposed to be running an account, taking the meeting. Sometimes, it might be the head of the division, sometimes it might be myself.

So, when you have these sessions between the agency and the client, what do you prefer? Do you prefer to have the c-suite from the agency or the actual workers themselves? What’s your preference?

Darren:

Well, look, Gary, certainly marketers will often say, “We’d like the people that are going to be working on our business” and it’s quite an awkward conversation to explain that agencies don’t just have a lot of people sitting around waiting for your account to land, that they could be appointed to your business.

But we do recommend to agencies, don’t send in you’re A-Team, your pitch team. We’re certainly happy for senior management because I think we’ve both had enough experience working in agencies to know that the senior management really do set the culture of the agency.

I know from my own experience, working in agencies, when the CEO and especially network agencies ─ when the CEO or managing director changed, often the culture of that office would change. So, it’s a good way of actually understanding the culture of an agency, but also, we’d ask the agency to bring along people that would potentially be working on the business if they’re available.

But then the big mistake agencies make is they send them along and they don’t give them anything to say. So, there’s always what I call warm props sitting in the room, silently nodding with nothing to contribute.

Gary:

No, and I totally agree. Going back to your point about, yeah, I reckon the c-suite do control the culture of the business, but also, I think they control the processes and the quality of the products. If I look at what a small-ish agency like myself will do, it’s the c-suite that change the processes. They update the product set. They’re the ones who are actually controlling the product … that is coming out of the overall business.

So, I do think there’s definitely a benefit of having the most senior people in the pitch because that’s the product that really you’re going to end up getting.

Darren:

And then at the end of that process, we give the client the very difficult decision of which three agencies do they want to take through to the next stage. And no more than three, because we ask them generally to commit to spending at least four to five hours with each agency in a workshop, working on a particular problem or issue that the agency could help them address.

So, it’s actually a real workshop, not a presentation where we get the client in the room and not just the selection panel. We’ll often, if it’s a creative agency, we can even bring in members of their media agency to be part of that process, and turn it into a real working workshop.

Clients have often reported back to us afterwards, it’s as close as they’ve ever got to test driving an agency in one afternoon or one day.

Gary:

Definitely it’s the process. I think it makes sense for numerous reasons. When you do this final or third session where we do this kind of face-to-face problem-solving, would the agency be given the opportunity to prep for it or actually do you want them to come in cold and see how they think?

Darren:

No, we often provide them with a briefing, background materials, and that type of thing. And depending on the timeline, it can be a week to two weeks to prep for it beforehand.

But what we’re really looking for is the …  it’s the agency’s time. So, it’s for them to actually structure the meeting the way that they would want to work with the client, because most agencies will tell us they have a proprietary process.

Gary, I’m sure that you have a proprietary process for solving problems, but this is your opportunity to allow the client to sample that in a four to five-hour process.

Gary:

Yeah, I totally understand. So, we’ve gone through this process, and we’re kind of whittling people down. So, now, we’re at the final three, does the decision come after that? I’ve got two questions, actually, if that’s okay, Darren.

Darren:

So, you’ve somehow flipped this on me. I sat down to have a conversation about your guide, which I think is fascinating, but you’ve now turned it back on me.

Gary:

Well, I’m always keen to learn. So, we’ve got the final three. The two questions, is the decision made after that?

And then the other questions, which going back to my guide that I do thoroughly recommend is some kind of scorecard so we can measure each agency individually. Yes, one of them will be around personality and cultural fit, but would you give them some kind of score card or would you recommend a score card so they can measure everyone the same way?

Darren:

We use scorecards at every step of the way, because it’s about due diligence and corporate governance. That at any time, you should be able to have the process audited and through the audit, justify the decision. And this is to overcome many of the suspicions that I find agencies have; “Oh, it was all decided beforehand, that they were just going through the motions.”

I mean, I seriously have to question what goes on in people’s minds that any marketer would want to go through a pitch process when they’ve already made up their mind. I have seen situations where at the outset, a marketer has had a particularly favoured agency that they’ve heard a lot about … but during the process, have completely changed their mind, and at the end of the process ended up selecting someone else.

So, this idea that most pitches have been predetermined is absolutely a complete furphy.

Gary:

Well, if you believe that, then you shouldn’t get involved. Just only get involved in the pitches you think you’re destined to win.

Darren:

That’s a very smart new business strategy; only pitch for the work you can win. I think more agencies should do that, so there’d be less wasted time and effort.

Gary:

Well, I quite agree with you. I have another question for you. Talk to me about another thing that we’ve come across and sorry to flip this, but as I said, I’m keen to answer your questions.

We’ve been involved in pitches where I don’t know, so there’s poor decision makers, let’s say, and for all pitch ─ for one reason or another, one of the key decision makers hasn’t been able to turn up. I don’t know, they had to homeschool their child … it’s my belief that the meeting should be canceled and reorganised. What would you do in that situation?

Darren:

So, we try and overcome this as much as possible. But before we even contact an agency, we put together a schedule for the whole process on a day-by-day basis, and we have everyone putting this into their diary. So, it eliminates things like, “Oh, I forgot I had annual leave or I’m getting married in the middle of it” or something like that.

But yeah, there’s always difficulties. And if someone is unable to turn up at the last minute, then we’re inclined not to reschedule because it will actually impact everyone. Like it impacts all the other agencies as well. But what we do is we just adjust the scoring that that person then is allowed for. But also, we make sure that they’re well-briefed when they return on how the rest of their team felt that that went.

So, they’re more actually likely to align with the other ─ you said four, they’ll align with the other three. The danger is once you start rescheduling, suddenly, you get headlines in trade magazines saying the pitch went for six months. Well, yes, because by the time it was rescheduled, it was two weeks later and two weeks later … so, we would rather keep it tight and adjust for it than to actually constantly reschedule.

Gary:

I think of the ways that we put it down before ─ putting down is probably the wrong way of putting it. But we know that one of the individuals is the main decision maker. We believe the score carding system being utilised, and that person’s going to be in the meeting ─ as soon as that person’s not in the meeting because of an illness, then the answer is you can’t win the pitch.

And so, we’ve walked into that room with that belief this is never going to go our way because that person needed to see us because they are going to be making the decision.

Darren:

Yeah, look, that would be so rare because most marketers in my experience, unless they’re incredibly narcissistic and egotistical, are inclined to be more interested in how their team feel. Because ultimately, most for instance, CMOs and the heads of marketing are not working with the agency on a day-to-day basis, it’s their team.

And therefore, if it’s underperforming, if there’s problems in the relationship, it’s going to rise up to their level. But very few have made that decision on their own. And in situations where we’ve had only one person actually making the decision, so incredibly small clients or clients where there really is only one decision maker, then we’ll run the process with them. And of course, if they can’t turn up, then we’re going to have to find some other way of accommodating.

The other thing Gary is, I think it’s really important that when people are running pitches upfront, you have to commit to the whole process and not just pick and choose the bits you want. Because if you’re going to make an informed decision, then you need to be part of the whole process.

Gary:

I think you make an extremely relevant point. And I’m glad I asked the question because yeah, I think you’re totally right. I think often you do look around for the people that’ll support you through your decision-making process to an essence, to make a decision for you. So, yeah, I agree with you. I like your viewpoint on that.

I mean, obviously, we’ve worked together before. I think a lot of the pitches that you would be working on would probably be larger than some of the ones that I’d be involved with. Do you think your process … and I’ve obviously got a view on this. But do you think your process works for a smaller pitch? More of a medium-sized business than a larger-sized business? Could you apply the same methodology?

Darren:

We scale and design a pitch to suit the client. We also scale it to suit the size of the client and their financial commitment. Because of course, why put an agency through that complete process when it may be only an appointment for a very small project?

So, you need to be able to be flexible. And the key thing here is constantly looking for ways to ensure that you cover off the due diligence, that anyone could come and ask you questions and you can actually prove the outcome as opposed to just, “Oh, I liked them, so I thought I’d give them a go.” So, we need to have that due diligence, but at least, have flexibility.

I mean, from your perspective, and I’m going to turn this back on you; what do you think are the main things that might for you, make a successful pitch other than you won?

Gary:

Understanding the people in the room I’d say would be the first and most important thing. And pitching at the right level. As I said, that’s where we previously made mistakes. So, understanding that level of knowledge and actually quite interestingly, we went through a process of asking people their level of knowledge or their perceived level of knowledge.

And what we realised very quickly is a perceived level of knowledge and a real level of knowledge is very different. So, we still, like everyone else, we look at LinkedIn. We see if they’re commentators within the industry, and we try to get an understanding of where we perceive them to be. I mean, simple things; do they have a Google Analytics qualification on their LinkedIn profile?

So, I think a successful pitch is really understanding the people we’re pitching to and the data and information we present being at the right level. I’d say that’s potentially the most important thing.

I think the other thing that makes the process work well is (and you made reference to it earlier) when there’s a really well-thought-out timeline. It’s properly thought out, it’s not like two of the stages are very close together. They’re meeting four agencies in one day and they’re going to be absolutely zonked. It’s when there’s going to be a nice handover period to the successful agency. And so, I think the second thing that’s really important; good timelines.

And the third thing, which I think is super important in digital marketing is access to data, is you’re looking for … digital marketing obviously is very highly data-led. You want the agency to come back with a data-led solution, you need to be providing them with your own data.

So, just to recap, I think the three key things is understanding the people in the room and their level of expertise, correct timelines, and access to client information.

Darren:

And that’s interesting because there’s a real concern that marketers have about handing over things such as what they see as commercially confidential or sensitive information. And I think the industry has done itself no favours, because for all of the non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements that get signed, it always manages to leak out somewhere. And there’s therefore, a concern that if they leak the pitch is going on, what else are they leaking?

Gary:

You think about one of the large global media agencies leaking, Westpac goals … I mean, you think about the trouble the agency would be in, how tarnished its reputation would be. I would suggest that they would keep it very closely guarded to a few individuals within the business. I think you’d be pretty safe.

But again, it comes back to that thing where you were asking earlier around how can you come up with pricing and performance if you don’t have that data. Without that, you can’t produce any of that. So, I think the whole thing of this process is we’re trusting each other. I’m trusting that the client’s going to give me the right information, that they’re going to be good to their word, they’re really invested in this process.

And they need to trust me on the flip side that I’m going to look after their data. And I’m going to be honest and integral throughout the whole process. And I think you need that trust between the two parties.

Darren:

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because I always wonder about those clients that go out to six or eight agencies and want the RFP, but how much are they exposing themselves to the fact that they’re giving out … you have to give a certain amount of yourself away in the RFP, the risks.

I mean, I know an agency that said to me, “Oh, well, we lost that client after all these years, but we’ll just go and talk to their competitors now.”

Gary:

Being naughty really, isn’t it? I think one of the things that I’ve learned in the past, well, since running Indago, is that it’s all about relationships and everyone knows everyone. We know Australia is a relatively small country. We know the industry is relatively small. You can’t do that to people. It makes no business sense to, to wrong people and utilise that kind of behaviour. I think it just comes up and bites you.

I certainly think to chase a competitor client after you’ve finished your relationship’s not the best way forward.

Darren:

Now, I do have another question for you, Gary, and that is when you’ve been unsuccessful and I know it doesn’t happen that often. Out of the 500-

Gary:

Too often, too often.

Darren:

But give us some feedback on when you get feedback after a pitch. So, when you’ve been unsuccessful, first of all, do you often get feedback? And secondly, is it valuable?

Gary:

I’m going to … and tosay this actually deeply upsets me. And I think about how many times I’ve gone home, and I don’t think many things at my job upset me, but this is one of the things that truly upsets me.

And I talk to my wife about it quite regularly, where you built up a relationship with someone that you’ve gone through this process with ─ it might’ve happened over months. I might have spoken to them 20, 30 times; phone calls, face-to-face, Zoom, whatever. And you become friends with these people, I believe to an extent.

I know how old their children are, where they go to school. I understand things about their personal life, them about mine. We’ve built this relationship. I’ve invested time, my agency’s invested time. And then you get ghosted or what I would call ghosted where you haven’t run the RFP. Sometimes, I find out via other people in the industry, and then you can’t get any feedback.

And it’s pretty common. And I would say far too common. And the conversation we have is, well, why would you not give feedback? And then often we sit there and we think, well, did we generally upset them, which we don’t believe to be the case because we built the relationship with them. Are they scared to give you feedback? As in they feel bad? Is it that they’re just intimidated to give you feedback or do they genuinely not care? Which I don’t believe either.

But I would say if I had to hastily guess, I would say at least 50% of RFPs, we do not get any kind of decent feedback other than you’ve been unsuccessful, someone was better. I think it’s a real shame.

Darren:

It’s abhorring.

Gary:

But it’s really common place. And now, I hope when you’re running a process that you get that feedback and you insist on it as part of the process, which I’m going to assume that you do. But it’s amazing how often we never hear from them again and that’s it. We get totally ghosted. And it does, it leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth, truth be told.

Darren:

Well, we actually have a policy of brutal candor. So, we are absolutely 100% transparent and honest in the feedback that we provide, because my belief is if you’ve invested the time and the goodwill in performing through a pitch process, the least, the very least you should have got out of it is feedback that allows you to where possible, improve for next time; to become better agencies, more successful and win more pitches, because there’s very little else in the way of prizes for the runners up.

Gary:

Totally. But it is amazing how often ─ as I said, 50% of the time, I reckon we get almost no response. And as I said, sometimes totally ghosted where you can’t reach them by phone and/or email. So, it does surprise me. But such is the way of the world and you often move on. But I’ve got a question for you actually, if that’s alright.

Darren:

Sure.

Gary:

The incumbent; now sometimes you have to go out to tender because it’s a procurement process, your government organisation, and that’s the way your business is structured. Sometimes the incumbent, the client’s not happy with the incumbent; should the incumbent be involved? Is it more often than not the incumbent has no chance of winning? Do you have a viewpoint around the incumbent agency?

Darren:

So, it’s really interesting. And this is an area that we often disagree with procurement because they say, “It’s the end of the contract, we have to go to market. And that incumbent has to be included.” And we point out that when you look at the data from Convergence, which is a global company, that tracks pitches, the chance of the incumbent winning is one in five.

Gary:

Is that true? I don’t know if you noticed, but is that like very recent/was that polled like five years ago? How recent is that stat?

Darren:

That’s based on last year and the year before; 2019, 2020. So, a lot of marketers go, “Oh, the incumbent’s got a good chance of winning because they know my business.” No, the incumbent’s got very little chance of winning. So, our point is don’t include the incumbent unless they actually do have a good chance of winning, okay?

Gary:

One in five, wow. I was going to say, I thought you were going to have no answer for that, or certainly not as a data-led approach answer, so I’m amazed.

Darren:

Which is why we say to clients when you get to the end of a contract, going to market is not the best way of knowing if your current relationship is a high-performance relationship. There are other ways of doing it. And in fact, going to market is incredibly flawed because ─ and I said this to a procurement person in the US, they got very upset.

I said, “Are you married?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Well, how long have you been married?” “Seven years.” “How do you feel about going home to your partner tonight and saying, look, it’s been seven years, the relationship’s good, but I just want to test it by going and dating with some other people for, let’s say, another three to six months, and then I’ll come back. And if you’re still the best, then I’ll commit to another seven years.”

And he said, it’s nothing like that. And I said it’s everything like that. What we’re dealing with here is beyond just capabilities and price. We’re dealing with what becomes integral relationships between the two. And that the way to test it is not stress test it in the market. Where people can say whatever they like to win it, but they have no obligation to actually deliver if they’re successful.

Gary:

I mean, it’s actually the first point in this guide, is why change agency? It’s laborious, it’s time consuming. That transfer of IP. I think the first question you have to look at, are there differences that we can’t get over-

Darren:

Irreconcilable differences.

Gary:

Honestly, thank you so much. And the funny thing is I’ve got the word in front of me, which makes it even worse.

Yeah, I mean, can you get over them? If you can’t get over them, then go out to tender, but really, you should try to make it work like you would do in the marriage. It’s the same example, isn’t it? It’s your marriage, you don’t just leave. You’ve got to try and make these things work. And if you can’t make it work, then you look elsewhere.

Darren:

Well, I read an article only today by Avi Dan, a pitch consultant in the US. And he said that the current average tenure of a client agency relationship is 2.7 years, according to him. He didn’t quote his source, but he said that’s come down from seven point something years. It’s in Forbes, anyway. You can read it there.

And look, I think a lot of this has been driven by this idea that rather than commit to the relationship and make it work harder, it’s become disposable. This idea of going to tender every three years or every time a contract’s at its end, has become the go-to strategy. And it just doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work for a whole lot of things, which I’ve written about many times.

But Gary, look, I’m so sorry. I’ve just realised the time. You’ve managed to get me … what do they call it? Soapboxing; talking about something I’m passionate about and the times just got away from us.

But look, I would absolutely recommend that if anyone hasn’t downloaded ─ I’m sure you’ve got thousands of downloads, but it is How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Digital Agency in 27 Steps. It’s available from your website, isn’t it?

Gary:

It is.

Darren:

So, what’s that? Indagodigital.com.au?

Gary:

Exactly, perfect.

Darren:

And look, the only thing I’d say is if you’re doing edition two; the 28th step, or maybe the first step, is contact TrinityP3, but I would have to say that because this is my podcast. But thank you very much.

Gary:

Thank you very much, Darren, I really appreciate your time, as always.

Darren:

I do have one last question; in all those 500 pitches, is there a single client that you would never pitch for again?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes 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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