The advertising agency pitch

How do you choose an advertising agency, or any marketing services agency for that matter?

Should you ask an advertising agency to pitch for your account or is there a better way of choosing an agency that you will be working closely with and, one would hope, forming a lasting, rewarding and mutually beneficial relationship?

A real hobby horse with agencies and clients alike is the relative merits of the ‘creative’ pitch in assessing an agency’s worth.

In his article ‘The Pitch and Its Costly Blind Spot’, Will Burns suggests that companies might be missing out on the best agency for their needs, and even the best talent, by adopting a pitch approach to agency selection.

From our own perspective, the pitch not only risks excluding smaller (possibly, and probably, more talented) agencies who cannot afford to speculate valuable time and money in the hope of winning an account (industry figures suggest that the success rate for agencies is just one account win in every ten pitches and one invitation to pitch from every 100 contacts made), but it also poses a number of questions for the prospective client:-

Beauty parade

Just like a beauty contest, the agency’s presentation will be designed to create a winning first impression. Whilst it might deliver some valuable, creative ideas, and the presentation team may be charming and erudite, this does not necessarily reflect the true character of the agency: How easy they are to work with? Which personnel will be working on the account? How much thought and commitment do they invest in clients’ work? What is the quality and continuity of service?

In short, once the pitch team has done its job (and moved on to the next pitch), how can the client be sure that they will get what they expect?

Most people wouldn’t choose a life partner from the catwalk, so why choose an agency that way?

The team

It’s all very well having a slick, charming, well-rehearsed and experienced agency pitch team present to you, but can you be sure that the same level of care and attention will go into servicing your account and meeting your future needs?

The pitch team, naturally, would suggest that it will, but this team specialises in pitches and winning business, not on servicing your account. It is not unusual for a large agency to use its big guns for the presentations, only to replace them with lesser calibre staff when it comes to the day to day running and direction of the account.

This low calibre team can be made up of a variety of people at various stages of their careers. Unless you are one of the agency’s big spending clients, you could find yourself working with a constantly changing group of account executives, creatives and copywriters, of varying talents and experience. It’s not unusual for junior employees to be given lower spending accounts on which to cut their teeth!

As your account team changes, each of the new people will need to be educated about your company’s products, services, ethos and objectives. The professional working relationship that you have developed with previous agency personnel will disappear and the continuity and quality of service will be threatened.

For more on the merits of using a smaller agency, see here: Size matters

The cost

In addition to the cost of your individual pitch, the agency also needs to recoup the cost of failed pitches (one in ten, remember!). The agency’s profit margins need to reflect this and the only way this can be done is through reduced operating costs, higher fees, greater mark-ups or a combination of all three. Either way, it is the client who will ultimately be paying the price, whether through higher prices or reduced levels and quality of service.

Alternatives to the pitch

So, the pitch might not be all it is cracked up to be!

In his article, Will Burns suggests a couple of alternatives to the free, speculative pitch; either pay the agencies for the pitch or adopt a meeting and dinner approach to assessing whether the agency is right for you.

Whilst we would not want every prospective client to wine and dine us, we would certainly advocate some form of ‘get to know you’ process akin to job interviews. It allows the prospective client to get under the skin of the agency and ensure that they are comfortable with the people and their approach.

An informal conversation in a more relaxed atmosphere will allow you to judge how well you get on with the agency, determine the agency’s approach and values and assess the agency’s ability to think on its feet, rather than its ability to spend weeks using a dedicated internal team to prepare a slick, well-choreographed, well-rehearsed presentation.

It will give a better indication of long term success than the pitch and will go a long way towards assuring a closer, more effective client-agency relationship.

To find out more, why not give us a call for an informal chat? Better still, take us out to dinner!