Better to mess up a pitch yourself than pay someone to do it for you

Any fool can hang up a shingle and call themselves a consultant. More than 20 years ago I was one of those fools. Today with mass redundancies and record unemployment, there are more ‘consultants’ hanging up those shingles than ever before.

The problem is that, like them, 20 years ago I thought I knew all about pitching because I had been on the agency side of many pitches. But I quickly learned through experience and reaching out to those overseas, much of the best practice required is actually hidden from most agencies and even many marketers.

Now, before you say that any fool can run a pitch, I agree – that is true. Any fool can. But when you consider what is at stake, then you will probably want to make sure you choose a professional over a fool. You see, it is not just the agency fee that is a risk. In fact, the agency fee (if you ignore the consultant’s fee) is possibly the smallest risk of all. If you get the pitch wrong, you can always fix the agency fee later.

No, the bigger risk is to the reputations of all those involved when pitches go wrong. And an even bigger risk is the impact on the total advertising and promotion budget when you end up selecting the wrong agency – whether it is advertising, media or digital.

Here are some recent examples bought to our attention either because the advertiser realised how wrong it had gone or the agencies involved were wanting our advice on how best to respond in the circumstances.

Less haste. Fewer screw-ups.

In trying to appease the clients’ need for speed, the consultant ran a three-week creative beauty contest just before the summer holidays with no chemistry tests, no capability assessments, no workshops, no test of how the agencies could translate strategy into creative work.

And most importantly, no account was taken of how any new agency appointment would affect the roster nor of the long-term management implications of effectively splitting the management of the brand across two competing agencies. The result lasted less than six months before the whole process had to be started again.

Don’t get me wrong. It is possible to run very fast tenders. But like any skill, knowing which corners to cut and which not to cut requires a well-developed command of the process.

Focus on a successful outcome.

The new marketing lead felt the incumbent media agency was incapable of meeting their future media needs. They recruited an ex-agency colleague to run a pitch. The very long-term incumbent refused to participate. The consultant was eclectic in providing a market review. But worse, quite loose with the client team around the criteria for judging the agencies at each stage.

The result was that a far smaller and less capable agency than the incumbent got through to the final stages of the pitch. This provided the ammunition the incumbent needed to escalate their criticism of the entire process and question the capability of the new marketing lead to senior management.

One of the most important functions of an independent consultant is to help clearly define what a successful outcome looks like and then manage the process to deliver it. Anything less is a #pitchfail.

The key word is ‘manage’ the pitch.

An ex-client had previously engaged us to manage their pitch process, and clearly thought they had enough knowledge to run it themselves. (We are quite good at knowledge transfer.) Between marketing jobs, they were engaged as a pitch consultant by a competitor. But clearly, they had missed out on some of the core principles we bring to pitch consulting.

The first was the pitch process took eight months. At most, it should have taken two, perhaps three. It could be because they involved 13 agencies at the credentials/initial submission stage, and still had five agencies competing at the creative stage. The pitch process became notorious amongst the local agencies as it dragged on and on.

It appears their lack of depth of knowledge on the process had convinced procurement to take control and so a bastardised version of the pitch process was delivered. We were very clear with the numerous agencies that contacted us to complain that this was not in fact our process as the consultant maintained.

Getting the money right.

One of the areas we have developed significant intellectual property and rigorous methodology is in structuring and benchmarking the agency fee proposals against the scope of work. This is a robust process that some suggest they have either copied or developed from us. Either because we have worked for them or they have worked for us.

But during a recent media pitch, rumours spread of an agency resource requirement that sounded incredibly high based on the media spend, but at a relatively low agency fee. The consultant was claiming to maintain a robust methodology akin to ours, when it seems, they were just making at best a guess. The trouble is, this will ultimately cost the advertiser either in poor agency delivery or marketing performance.

We have provided advice on consideration when selecting a consultant to manage your pitch. From the strengths and weaknesses of the types of consultants. To assessing their capabilities. To the processes they recommend.

But the fact is that you would be far better running the pitch yourself than placing something so important in the hands of someone who could simply screw it up. And not because they are incompetent but because successfully managing your pitch is much more complicated than you think.

When you consider the consequences of getting it wrong, wouldn’t you only want to place it into the hands of someone better qualified than you?

TrinityP3’s comprehensive Search & Selection process provides extensive market knowledge, tightly defined process and detailed evaluation and assessment. We also have created the pitch consultants’ definite guide to agency selection.