Pitching for a new agency can be like speed-dating, with a promise for marriage. And that’s a tough call for anyone. During the years, we have seen and participated in many pitches, where the following advice could have made the process a lot better – for both agency and buyer.
The four factors of agency-client relationship
Let’s face it. Chemistry and creativity are the most important factors for choosing an agency. I usually say that agency choice is made up of 40 percent chemistry (can you work with the team), 30 percent creativity (do they have great ideas), 20 percent credentials (do they understand your business), and 10 percent price (do you get ROI).
That’s all factors which can be presented rose-red during the pitch, but in reality you never really know if, you have made the right choice, before you are 6-12 months down the engagement.
So how can you create a pitch process that will give you a better foundation for your choice of agency?
Invite the right ones – give them a call
So who do you invite to your pitch? After you gone through the recommendations from your peers, Google search, LinkedIn etc. and have compiled a list of interesting agencies. Then stop before just sending your e-mail invitations. Why not arrange a quick call to the shortlisted, before inviting them to the pitch?
This way you will get a chance to a firsthand judgement – on a more personal level. You can ask them directly if your company and request is within their expertise. And if not – most of the times an agency would be willing to point you to other, interesting options among their competition.
Oh.. and remember; sending random e-mail invitations to 15 agencies, just isn’t serious competition for the agency. And you will end up spending time reading through tons of credentials, which could be better used on the phone, to narrow down your search.
Plan your process
When preparing the pitch, be clear about the process and, time-plan. As an agency it is quite frustrating to be hurried through a proposal and then kept waiting a month or two for the decision.
Therefore make a realistic timeline for the following: When do you need credentials. – Is there time for a Q&A session. – Will you and when will you share the Q&As for all the agencies invited. – When do you need the proposal. – When and where, is the pitch happening. – How many agencies will be invited to the final pitch. – When will you make the final decision and, when is the work starting?
By giving this plan upfront, you can both avoid a lot of extra e-mailing on your behalf, but it will also help the agency to prepare better.
Know what you are looking for
Of course you are looking for new and brilliant ideas, strategic direction and, flawless execution – and 99 percent of agencies would claim they can give you that.
Therefore I would recommend taking some time to think about what you’re really looking for. As an example it could be, top 3 priorities that you want to improve in your communications plan. – It could also be, specific insights into how a certain target group is reached, or a digital campaign for the next year.
Being specific on what you want to improve and what your targets are, will give the agency a much better understanding of you, as a client. It will also help you, to set the expectations upfront. And ultimately, it will give you a much more precise proposal, to your needs.
This might seem simple – but I’ve seen many proposals where reading, between the lines was needed, to actually understand what the client wanted.
Reveal your selection criteria
Its great for the agency to know what, exact criteria you be selecting by, during the pitch. Even if you just want to be surprised – speaking that, out in the open, is a great help!
Clearly defining “the way to your heart” in the pitch-situation will only, give you improved entertainment, during the pitch-days. It shouldn’t be a spreadsheet score-card either but, just a few guiding points on what you will expect and be looking out for, when the agency is on stage.
Anyway – the smarter agencies will probably ask you the question anyway. So, why not think it through beforehand, and communicate it clearly to everyone.
Write a brief that ignites ideas
I know most clients think of the pitch as, the agency’s opportunity. The agency is the one fighting, for the contract and they, are supposed to be doing the mating dance. But if you think of speed-dating again; the brief is your chance, for a flirt.
Think of your brief as the part where you, get the agencies really interested and fired up, to give their best performance.
Give out some interesting facts and, background information, about your target audiences. Add in some news about your next big project or, another product that can ignite some campaign ideas, for the pitch. Be honest about your latest media-crisis, why it happened and, how it has affected your media-relations. Show the latest and greatest marketing campaign and, in your own words, tell why you liked it.
After all, you should then also skip all the boilerplate details, which the agency can read on your website anyway.
Tell us the budget!
I would love to own a Bugatti Veyron, but the pricetag tells me, it will probably never happen. Therefore, I am not spending much time at the Bugatti dealer, trying out Veyron’s for a test-drive either. So why is it then, that there are still that many requests for proposals, that does not have a budget specified?
It is just so much easier to craft a strategy and tactics, if you know the budget limitations. There is nothing more frustrating than coming up with a brilliant idea, that everyone loves – including you – but it will never happen, because it was too costly.
And yes – you have seen the creative performance from the agency. But coming up with a creative idea that, actually works within your budget, should tell you so much more.
And no – a budget indication should not lead the agency, to maximize their own profit in the proposal, as it is a competition. If they actually decide to participate and, spend a weeks work in preparing, they’ll want to impress you, including demonstrating ROI for your budget!
Give the agencies a concrete challenge they can present around. Go back to “knowing what you are looking for” and ask for a campaign idea, that will answer your question best.
If you are curious about what, the agency would be like to work with on a daily basis, it’s perfectly ok to ask for a detailed description of how the tactics would be carried out.
This will give the agency structure for the pitch and a possibility to differentiate themselves. And it will give you a much better idea of how they think.
Give a proper evaluation
Once the dust is settled, be so kind to give every agency a proper evaluation. What was good, what was not so good. Why did they get picked – and what would you like to more of going forward. And why where they not picked – and what should they do better next time?
It’s not only great for the agency to know these things, so they can get better. It will also force you to think once again about, what you really are looking for in an agency. And that will improve you next pitch even more.