When Does an Agency Pitch Cease to Be an Agency Pitch?

This post is authored by Darren Woolley, the Founder and Global CEO of TrinityP3, leveraging his background as an analytical scientist and creative problem solver. Darren brings a wealth of unique insights and expertise to the marketing process, positioning him as a renowned global thought leader in optimizing marketing productivity and performance for marketing agencies and supplier rosters.

In the realm of communication professions, advertising stands out as a highly visible field where language plays a pivotal role. However, as an industry, we often employ language in a way that perpetuates misconceptions. Now, before you label me as a stickler for semantics, I must clarify that I firmly believe “remuneration” and “compensation” are not perfect synonyms. What I do take issue with is the indiscriminate use of the term “pitch” to encompass all tenders, agency selection processes, and market reviews.

According to Collins’ English Dictionary, making a pitch entails attempting to persuade individuals to adopt or purchase the subject of the pitch. Here is where the argument gains nuance. The traditional speculative creative process could be deemed a pitch, involving multiple agencies crafting strategic and creative recommendations and presenting them to the client.

However, the conventional Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Information (RFI), or Request for Tender (RFT), characterized by rigid formats and extensive sets of specific questions, feels more akin to completing a job application for an agency rather than an opportunity to pitch. While these two prevalent processes for selecting an advertising or media agency exist, it’s crucial to acknowledge that they are by no means the only approaches. Many alternative methods serve as focused and well-defined ways to assess and select the ideal agency partner, devoid of a sales-oriented pitch format.

Let’s delve into several of these methodologies for selecting a new agency, exploring their strengths and limitations, and endeavor to categorize each approach accordingly.

1. The Creative Showcase (The Speculative Creative Pitch)

In this approach, agencies participate in a captivating display of their creative prowess—a Creative Showcase. It involves agencies presenting their imaginative ideas, strategies, and campaigns to the client. The purpose is to inspire and captivate the client, demonstrating the agency’s creative capabilities and their potential to bring innovative solutions to the table. While this method allows agencies to truly pitch their creative vision, it is important to consider its limitations and potential drawbacks.

2. The Comprehensive Evaluation (Request for Proposal – RFP)

A favored method by procurement departments, the Request for Proposal (RFP) offers a comprehensive examination of various agency aspects. It allows for an extensive exploration of agencies through a set of predetermined questions and response formats. While beneficial for ensuring compliance, this approach has limitations when it comes to assessing intangible skills, capabilities, and chemistry. It tends to favor agencies skilled in crafting RFP responses rather than those best suited to providing the specific services needed. In essence, it resembles a job application more than a traditional pitch.

3. The Show and Assess (Chemistry and Credentials)

In this approach, often used in selecting professional and creative services such as architects, composers, artists, and film directors, the emphasis is on showcasing previous work and evaluating chemistry. It involves reviewing a portfolio of recent projects undertaken by the agency and meeting with the team to gauge their capabilities and assess the alignment of chemistry. This method relies on a “show and tell” dynamic, where agencies present themselves rather than providing specific recommendations.

4. The No Pitch, Pitch

Increasingly, incumbent agencies are given the opportunity to pitch alone at the end of a contract. This commercial review allows the current agency to present their capabilities, although market knowledge may be a limitation. Independent third parties can bridge this gap by providing valuable insights.

5. Strategic/Creative Workshop (The Test Drive)

A popular choice, this method involves selecting a few agencies for a test drive. The marketing team provides a brief, and agencies work together openly and transparently in a full or half-day workshop. It offers a firsthand experience of agency talent in action, emphasizing collaboration rather than just a presentation.

In assessing these processes, it becomes evident that different needs require different methodologies. For selecting a new agency, options 2, 3, and 5 (No Pitch, Pitch, Strategic/Creative Workshop) prove effective, with the choice depending on factors like account size, timing, complexity, and risk mitigation. Option 1 (Speculative Creative Pitch) is ideal for seeking a winning idea. Lastly, if the goal is to review the incumbent without changing agencies, option 4 provides a less wasteful and rigorous approach.

Language should align with purpose and intent, avoiding the lazy labeling of everything as a pitch. Understanding the desired outcome can guide the selection of the most suitable methodology or combination thereof.

Agency Pitch

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