The difference between agency confidence and arrogance in a pitch

The Chemistry Meeting: A day that agencies and advertisers look forward to with much excitement. For the advertiser this is a chance to meet a potential long term partner, experience some fresh thinking and see if the agency really is as impressive as their credentials suggest. For the agency this is a chance to capture the hearts and minds of a potential new client beyond trading exercises or remuneration templates. This is where they show the client who they really are and what they stand for.

Some agencies are “pitch fit” – they have either won or are in the process of securing new business. The team they have is honed, the chemistry they have is genuine and they know how to work a table.

For the client this presents itself as an interesting piece. It looks polished – they handover to each other seamlessly, there is banter, the client even allows themselves a smile.

Despite this, there is something lacking and then it hits you. What a bunch of arrogant *****!

So what made them come to this conclusion?

1) A sole focus on themselves.

An agency may have much to be proud of and this should not necessarily be ignored. They will put up the slide with lots of client logos, the slide showing the hundreds of millions of dollars they bill and the slide with awards they have won from Cannes to Cairns.

They claim that very few people ever leave the agency and their NPS score is amazing. To top it all off, their proprietary tools are unique and best in class.

This is all very good but the danger with a focus on an agency’s own achievements may come across to the advertiser that they are just another notch on the bedpost. This was supposed to be an opportunity to show how the agency can be a progressive and viable partner and yet for the most part they are basking in their own glory.

In many respects, this chest beating is best placed in the credentials document – after all, that is often the gateway to a Chemistry Meeting. An advertiser knows they are talking to a big agency with lots of clients. Simply rehashing this information can be a waste of time and offers no other insights or justification for the agency being here.

2) Not asking questions

This is a consequence of the point above. An agency which focuses on themselves will not allow time for questions.

Even taking time out of the equation, an agency that does not ask questions suggests arrogance in that they think they have all the answers. Questions are a sign of a smart agency. It shows a willingness to learn and collaborate. Not asking questions is a warning sign that this could be a trend.

What happens when an agency gets a brief and they don’t challenge it? The output is not as strong as it could be. Will they do deals on our behalf that they think are right for us without engaging with us first?

When an agency meets an advertiser for the first time, it is a golden opportunity to find out as much as you can in order to lay the groundwork for immaculate client service – in essence determine the scope of work. The more you know of a client’s needs, the better you can tailor a team around them and the better your chances of success in the long term.

3) Not tailoring the conversation around an advertiser’s business

It sounds obvious but Chemistry Meetings should have a focus on the client and the challenges faced within that category.

A department store may face challenges from pure play retailers, an Australian FMCG advertiser may face increased pressure as a result of a recent trade deal with China and a bank may face a drop in profits owing to changes in the law.

Whatever the challenge may be, advertisers like to hear that an agency has done some research about what keeps them up at night and how they can help with it. However quite often, the advertiser in the room could be anyone because there is nothing tailored to them.

Even a couple of insights are welcomed by the advertiser – and if unsure what these challenges are, now is the time to ask.

4) Making assumptions

A factor of confidence is admitting you don’t always have the answer and be willing to work with others to find the solution. An arrogant agency will make assumptions about a business they know very little about without researching it first.

For example, observations around current channel selection are admirable but criticism at this early juncture is not advised. I’ve seen agencies make a reference to an advertiser’s spend in a particular media channel and suggest this is the wrong thing to be doing without doing its homework on ROI first.

So how does an agency become arrogant? Most agencies will start off hungry and confident. They will get a couple of new business wins under their belt, enough to attract new talent and forge a point of difference in an industry that was beginning to look homogenised.

This success continued and they doubled their billings and staff numbers in a short time and that’s when they changed from pitching for new business to expecting new business.

Advertisers want to work with a confident agency. Confidence is contagious and the cousins of confidence – courage, faith and positivity – are welcome assets in an agency partner.

You don’t want to work with an arrogant agency as it is not a partnership – do you want an agency making decisions on your behalf because they think they know better than you?

A simple way to find arrogance is to challenge them when you first see evidence: How do you know that? Why do you think that? What makes you think you know more than us? Arrogant agencies will only see things their way, confident agencies will listen to your perspective.

Of course, the advertiser themselves could be arrogant but that’s another post…