How to know if you need to pitch your agency

I often get asked by our clients to see them ‘about running an agency pitch’. The decision to pitch, for whatever reason, is generally already taken by the time they speak to me.

Yet sometimes, based on what I hear, my advice is ‘actually, don’t pitch’, for a number of reasons.

Reviewing an agency can often be an intuitive reaction to a given situation, change or perception. But, of course, this doesn’t always make ‘pitching’ the best option.

Loss of IP, disruption to your BAU communications, internal stress and diversion of resource, and the risk of ‘new relationships with the same problems’ are all challenges associated with making the decision to go to market for something shiny and new.

However, on other occasions, pitching is certainly the optimal route to take. Here are ten indicators that tell you that now could be the right time.

1. The agency has failed to follow through on performance KPIs designed to avert a pitch.

In my opinion it’s never fair to pitch an agency that has not been performance managed. Or at the very least, given fair warning and opportunity to discuss issues, and agree on KPIs designed to fix the problems. But if you’ve already taken this approach, and the agency has failed to respond at more than one key milestone – the pitch option is relevant.

2. You’ve taken improvement advice from your agency, yet nothing has changed.

Sometimes, the fault is yours; self-awareness is critical. Listening to an advisor either inside your agency or externally, and implementing steps to improve things on your side is good agency leadership.

Without this due diligence, you can go through a pitch and emerge with a new agency and the same set of problems. However, if you’ve implemented improvement advice without result, there may not be much more you can do with the existing partnership.

3. Consistent dissatisfaction exists through the line, not just at one level.

Make sure you talk to your team and identify red threads of dissatisfaction, from the ground up. Understanding this can help to pinpoint the degree of ‘solvability’ that might exist, before a pitch becomes necessary. One jarring member of agency staff could be swapped out – but if the problems exist through the whole team, it’s obviously indicative of something more challenging.

4. Despite attempts at mediation, inter-roster tensions continue to detract from performance.

Sometimes, your agencies argue so much with each other that it becomes a problem, rather than ‘healthy competition’. If the agencies have agreed steps with you to end inter-roster tension (clarity of scope, new operating practices, the instigation of a cross-agency leadership team or similar) yet you still have problems, it may be that the differences are insurmountable, in which case keeping the same agencies will only exacerbate the problem.

5. The agency is continuously recycling the same thinking.

Once you’ve eliminated your own team from causing this problem (through bad briefing, communication, lack of innovation, bravery or follow-through), it may be that the relationship is simply too tired, staid or demotivated to survive.

6. The turnover in your agency team is higher than that of the agency itself.

If your agency team is constantly changing, it can be indicative of a number of things, none of them good for you. For example, it could be a sign that the agency has de-prioritised you. Maybe it is using your account as a training ground for grooming talent on their way through to better things. Or, for whatever reason, your reputation within the agency is such that none of the staffers want to work with you.

7. You’ve tried and failed to update an old contract, scope and fee structure.

If the agency isn’t interested in continuously evolving with you, and maintaining commensurate contractual agreements and/or fee structures, reviewed at sensible intervals – test the market to see who will. Contractual agreements are so often neglected in agency-advertiser relationships, and yet in the current climate of complexity, change and challenge, a good contract has never been more important.

8. The balance between assertiveness and abrasiveness is breached.

Good agency and client leadership involves assertiveness. An agency should challenge you, your team and your thinking wherever necessary. But there’s a fine line between assertiveness and abrasiveness. If the disagreements are becoming too regular, personal, repetitive or negative in nature, it’s a sign that the frustration on either or both sides is becoming toxic.

9. You find yourself constantly second-guessing your agency’s agenda.

As much as these are business arrangements, there’s no getting away from the fact that the sweet spot in agency-advertiser relationships has a lot to do with human trust. Without trust, confidence that your agency’s recommendations are agnostic is quickly eroded.

Of course your agency is in business. Of course it needs to hit revenue and profitability targets. But if you’re always wondering ‘have they got an ulterior motive for recommending this channel?’, or ‘are they showing us this creative just to try and win an award?’, or ‘are they doing things this way just to try and extract more fees?’, the chances are that trust is fundamentally broken.

10. You’re duplicating your efforts across too many agency partners.

This is a different type of problem, yet it is one we often find. Multiple agencies on your roster with very similar skill-sets, taking up too much of your team’s time in management, delivering disparate or disjointed solutions, when actually only one agency is required. If this is you, consolidation via pitch (closed or open) might be the answer.


If there’s one thing to leave you with, it is that completion of due diligence in determining whether or not to pitch your agency is critical.

Running a pitch should not be your default setting; nor should it be knee-jerk.

So look before you leap. Taking some time to objectively evaluate your own position, actioning an improvement plan and giving that plan time to show results, is the best way to frame your pitching decisions.

TrinityP3’s comprehensive Search & Selection process provides extensive market knowledge, tightly defined process and detailed evaluation and assessment. Learn more here