Why do Agency pitches take so long and does that produce a better outcome?

For marketers, the agency pitch creates a fantastic opportunity to take stock of skills and services needed from an agency (or agencies), as well as to glean expert opinion on the brand’s market situation and creative opportunities to better meet consumer needs.

How long the pitch process itself takes, whether it’s a matter of weeks, or runs to months, depends on many  factors…some of which drive the length of the process in a good way and others negatively.

Sadly, it’s the latter factors that are guilty of making the pitch process too long and drawn out.

It’s more about the focus you bring, how you handle the logistics involved, the quality of the process itself and the length of time that’s needed…. given the desired outcomes. The question shouldn’t be ‘How long is a piece of string’, but ‘how long should the piece of string be’ to deliver the better outcome desired!

We see so much time wasted through too many agencies being involved throughout the process which eats time and resources when coupled with poor logistics. You most probably read about the fact that both pitch processes for HPB and SIA took ages to complete ….running from August last year till just recently.

There’s no information about what drove HPB’s pitch process so long, though clearly there had to have been some problems encountered with either too many agencies involved….or not dealing with the areas highlighted in the key factor list below.

However, one clue about what happened in the SIA pitch is highlighted… that it is guilty of having too many agencies pitching….with eleven agencies plus the incumbent selected. We’d recommend half that number for the first actual meeting to be honest.

Filtering the number of agencies prior to the first meeting allows you to then focus on quality time with the core agencies you’re interested in. This is key to managing logistics as well as your resources….and not wasting agencies time too.

For example, we would recommend that you filter the agencies by screening a very long candidate list, to a list of ten agencies, based on the brief. Then, using a suitable template, narrow down to eight to request for detailed credentials to be sent.

Then assess and review these to select the short list of five or six agencies for the chemistry/strategic workshop phase, where the client and agencies meet for the first time. As you can appreciate, this is half the number that SIA had presenting.

This number is then reduced further for the pitch phase and financial analysis, with two, max three, agencies.

We’ve applied this ‘best practice’ across many Asian cultures and markets, such as Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore…..working across diverse categories, including the complex, competitive conflict areas of automotive and finance. It works efficiently and effectively with both agencies and clients applauding the process.

To ensure you select the best agency, best creative output outcome, you need to take into account the following key aspects in determining the optimal process and the associated logistics and timeline that flows from that.

1. Define what success looks like

Define what you’re looking to improve on compared to the incumbent.

As well as what you may not be happy with….what’s changing in your marketing and business needs?

You also should take into account the needs/opinions/issues of other key stakeholders in the business, or you’ll face potential conflict throughout the process that will cause delay.

Be clear about your expectations in terms of services needed, deliverables/outputs required, your budget and type of remuneration model that suits your needs best. 

2. You need a well defined process

There is a level of commitment needed to run a pitch process from stakeholders and if the process is not defined and agreed it can disrupt and lengthen the time taken to deliver the best outcome.

Everyone thinks they know how to run a pitch but the truth is there is no one pitch process to suit all occasions. You need to be able to customise the process to deliver the desired successful outcome.

You need to include metrics in the process to present a clear picture of the landscape.

The first set of metrics are to deal with the ambiguity of opinion. Leaving decisions based on subjective opinions is dangerous as different stakeholders come from different experience and skill set positions. You need to develop scorecards against a set of questions that some up what success looks like from the first point above. Yes, this is still subjective but focuses scoring on the things that matter.

The second set of metrics is about benchmarking the financial data you collect from each agency. It’s not just about each agency versus each other….but against the industry benchmark. This proves invaluable in determining who’s offering fair value or not, but critically where the resource focus is too.

Ultimately, this helps a lot at the negotiation stage….and contract development.

3. Commitment to the process and timelines

Get commitments with both stakeholders, as well as key support resources, within the business and with the agency candidates. You need to clearly communicate the process, timeline/key dates and deliverables expectations.

This is one of the biggest drivers of delays and the ‘long agency pitch process’.

4. Clear decision-making framework

Define the key stakeholders at the beginning. Also, agree how you are going to weight the scorecards at the keys stages of the process. Is it evenly split or marketing weighted for example?

Also, are there regional or global stakeholders that need to be involved?

If you bring in additional stakeholders later on that are not involved in the early part of the process you run the risk of creating chaos and wasting pitch time, but worse, potentially making the wrong decision as different stakeholders have different information to base their view on. 

5. You need someone dedicated to managing the process

The process needs a key stakeholder to communicate to the right people internally and manage the timeline commitments and especially key decision meetings. The key person needs to be willing to run the process like any other project in the business and be be evaluated on it as part of their KPI’s.

The chosen person must have authority (or clearly be given the authority), so that they are not given the run around. You’d be surprised how challenging this can be where inputs are needed from many sources

6. Put some clear thinking into your brief

The time you put in now will be worth it in the long run. If the brief is vague you will get an incomplete response and need to look at furthering the evaluation process to satisfy the business. Often we see briefs that have no defined problem, rather a vague brand review. So be clear what you are asking the agencies to do.

A few final thoughts to wrap up…..

Basically….you can’t really start with the statement that a pitch is too long per se, it needs to be the right length of time to fit the process that the particular organisation has put together, to deliver against the success factors set.

Yes, there are many unnecessarily long pitches that take place due to not focusing on getting the above factors right and wasting time as well as doing things poorly in the process.

The more serious outcome of not getting it right is not a long pitch process …..but selecting the wrong agency for the job that’s needs doing.

A final word on metrics…. Clients are often astounded at the value and clarity metrics bring to the milestones in the pitch process….and swear never to go back to their ‘old ways’ of running a pitch.

Happy pitching!

First published in Mumbrella Asia on February 18, 2019

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