8 ‘Less Obvious’ Reasons Why Agencies Lose Pitches

Pitches can be very capricious. The blend of human intuition, rhetoric, substance and circumstance can make even the best agency lose over the course of a pitch process.

No one says that it’s perfect. But there’s a world of difference between a well-run pitch process and a bad one.

Some mistakes are clichés…some are not.

There are some pitch mistakes, made by agencies, which are obvious although often repeated (chest thumping attitude, not listening, not bringing the right people, banging on about oneself, profound gender skews in meeting rooms, etc).

But there are some others that may go unnoticed by many.

The agencies who have pitched and lost on projects I’ve run with my team at TrinityP3 may be familiar with some of what follows, as I tend to try and provide as much feedback as I can – beyond the blasé, meaningless platitude of ‘you were a close second’ to something more insightful, that may even be used by said agency at a later date.

We want you to succeed, not fail.

My approach is this: I want every fundamentally decent agency I work with in a pitch project to eventually get a win ‘with TrinityP3’ (this excludes arseholes, which I think is fair enough).

I want all agencies to be in a position to put their best foot forward at every step.

The best problem for me in a pitch is having a group of finalists who are all so good that the client has trouble choosing between them.

In that spirit, I am happy to share these experience-based thoughts with you – eight not-so-obvious mistakes that agencies often make in pitches. Have a read and see what you think.

1. The MD or CEO does too much talking.

Few things are more off-putting to most clients than an overbearing CEO. Finding the right balance, style and amount of contribution can be hard. To a client, an overbearing CEO can demonstrate anything from rhetoric over substance, an autocratic culture, or a lack of confidence in his or her own team.

2. The balance between demonstration of core requirements and other services is skewed.

Media agencies have developed creative capability. Advertising agencies now do data and media. The client gets that. But it is becoming more common for agencies to talk up or build in their diversified services in a pitch response to the point where it becomes confusing, irritating, or – worst of all – generates suspicion in the clients mind that if this agency is appointed, it will be off on a land-grab from day one.

3. The GAD or Business Director is not given enough of a role.

It is easy, in the excitement surrounding strategy, creative, implementation, execution, to neglect the input and role of the business lead. It is very common for this to happen. Make no mistake: the GAD or Business Director, as the central pivot and glue that holds things together, is a critical person for almost all clients to get a proper feel for through a process. He or she must be given a role that demonstrates the generally T-Shaped skills required in this role.

4. The agency promise, positioning or vision sets itself up for failure.

If the positioning of the agency or the stated promise at the start of a pitch process is too grand, the agency gives itself a very limited chance of being able to demonstrate true delivery of such a promise in a pitch scenario, via strategy, creative or implementation. Be careful of the rhetoric that does not translate to substance.

5. The quantity of produced work is too high.

Many agencies ask me, at the pointy end of a pitch process, about how much they should deliver in presentation – how many concepts, how many articulations, or similar. My answer invariably is – do what you feel is right, prioritise your best idea, and know that I won’t be marking you down or up based on the number of concepts you provide.

I’ve seen agencies completely undo themselves by presenting too much – the client can see the effort and passion, but is so buried under an avalanche of slides or boards that the wood and the trees become completely interchangeable.

6. The agency asks lots of questions, but does nothing with the answers.

We generally run a Q&A between agency and client, in between receipt of brief and the workshop or presentation day. This is in recognition that a real life process would include such sessions; it’s also an opportunity for an agency working from a base of zero to get a bit more facetime.

A common mistake here is for agencies to ask lots of clever questions, the answers to which don’t then see the light of day in the actual solution. To the client, this just talks to an agency trying too hard to be clever, without the follow-through. It is also irritating, because (as some agency people tend to forget) – the client is having to produce responses, data and documentation for three sets of questions, not just theirs. Again – you’re not marked down if you ask fewer questions. Just ask good ones that translate into solutions.

7. The agency goes the extra mile, but without properly checking the terrain.

If you run on unfamiliar terrain without properly looking down, you’ll likely trip up. Some agencies can be prone to answering a pitch brief, and then extending their answer into un-required or unasked for areas (common ones being customer journey mapping, or CRM strategies).

The agency wants to demonstrate the breadth of thinking, capability and passion. But without a brief or a clear understanding of the client at that point, what gets presented can become meaningless, or simply off-beam and un-executable in client-land.  

8. The agency undersells itself financially.

This last one is obviously contentious. I can only speak for myself, and for TrinityP3. When we consider agency fee submissions and present back our assessment to our clients, we do so in context of two things. One: does it represent fair value in the market? Two: Is it mutually sustainable and beneficial?

I’m proud to say that never, in all the pitches I’ve run, has the cheapest agency been chosen on the basis of cheapness. In many cases, the more expensive option on paper becomes the winner. Price is important, sure – and I’m not suggesting that you inflate your numbers; but it is a component of value, not the other way around.

In fact, if we see a proposal that appears unsustainable for whatever reason, we will flag it as a bad thing, not a good thing. Price yourselves with confidence and fairness. If the consultant and/or client is switched on, they will recognise the right balance.


So there they are. There are a fair few others, but I hope you find them useful and I welcome your comments about your own experiences.

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