Top tips for holding a perfect pitch

Pitches continue to create bad blood between marketers and account handlers, with little agreement about why they go wrong, but communication between both could go a long way to solving the issue.

Clients and agencies still fundamentally misunderstand each other when it comes to the pitch process, according to a new study based on the views of almost 500 brands and 500 agencies.

The biggest issue – for 57% of clients – is that agencies do not stick to budgets, while 54% say they do not follow the brief, according to the survey by intermediary FindGood. Agencies’ inability to prove return on investment is a bugbear for 53% of brand owners.

Agencies’ top complaints are that clients set unrealistic budgets and deadlines (according to 35% and 32% of respondents respectively) and there is a lack of information before the pitch (28%).

“Time and again this comes up, because it is often difficult at the start of a process for clients to have a clear budget but it really helps agencies to prepare appropriately and put the right team in place,” says Annabelle Bates, business director at FindGood.

Pitches also often result in wasted time and effort, since 39% of agencies only consider working for clients with a specific minimum budget, yet 84% of brands put accounts out to pitch without a minimum value.

Steven Taylor, marketing director at Transform Cosmetic Surgery, understands why agencies get frustrated but admits that assigning a specific budget can sometimes be limiting.

“We don’t always know where a good campaign will take us and therefore how much it will cost to run across multiple channels,” he says. “We consequently look to give an indicator budget so we don’t risk constraining a good idea.”

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Time to prepare

To get the best results, clients also need to give agencies a longer time to prepare, as 43% begin speaking to agencies only four to six weeks before the pitch date and 27% allow just two to four weeks. The research suggests agencies need six to eight weeks to prepare effectively.

The writing of the brief itself is another bone of contention, because although 71% of clients say managers and directors lead the process, agencies generally believe briefs are written by junior members of the team or admin staff. There are also disagreements over the content. Half of clients say they always provide an outline of budget whereas just 9% of agencies believe this to be true. The gap between their opinions on the clarity of goals and objectives is even wider.

Encouragingly, clients say they are generally willing to hold preliminary meetings with agencies to judge the chemistry between organisations. When doing so, brands expect account staff to have an understanding of their recent work, be aware of recent news and recognise their wider concerns, as well as having general knowledge about the brand and its background.

“We don’t always know where a good campaign will take us and therefore how much it will cost to run across multiple channels. We consequently look to give an indicator budget so we don’t risk constraining a good idea”

Steven Taylor, Transform Cosmetic Surgery

While agencies feel they largely do this, they also spend time on things that clients say they do not necessarily require, such as preparing bespoke slides. Similarly, 57% of agencies research every employee attending the meeting but only 17% of clients believe this is necessary.

Having the person in charge at the pitch is also important for agencies but only 20% feel the person with the power to make the call is always present. This again does not match with what clients say, as 51% claim to ensure the ultimate decision maker attends. Even so, the fact the person responsible for making the choice is only there half the time can lead to delays and unexpected changes, says FindGood’s Bates.

However, Transform’s Taylor says: “Chief executives rarely get involved in the pitch process with us and I would be just as inclined to take in the views of the entire marketing department as a democracy rather than just refer to what the big boss says.”

From clients’ point of view, 37% feel it is most important to meet with the agency team they will be working with and 61% want to meet both senior managers and those working directly on the account, yet 41% of agencies send mostly senior management and just 5% send the whole account team to a pitch.

Feedback for unsuccessful pitches is another clear issue because while 26% of clients always provide feedback, only 1% of agencies say they receive it after every pitch.

“The fact is that agencies who fail to win a pitch are always going to feel undervalued, given the level of investment they have put in in terms of time, adrenalin and out of pocket expenses,” says Janet Hull, director of marketing at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and executive director of Creative Pioneers Challenge.

She believes this and other research consistently shows a mismatch between client and agency perceptions of the pitch process but concedes “it’s hardly surprising given that the situation is in part adversarial, and there are many players on the agency side.”

During its Adaptathon series, the IPA concluded that the quality of relationship management between clients and their agencies has a huge bearing on the quality of output and outcome, which is largely driven by client attitude.

“That’s why we are in talks with [advertisers’ body] ISBA about joint client-agency training in relationship management,” adds Hull. “We’ve found that senior clients are the first to acknowledge they are prone to throw young managers in at the deep-end. Laying the foundations early through appropriate two-way training in both hard and soft skills will benefit all parties.”

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