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Client pitches: three tips

Hello, it’s me again; back to share my latest installment on the ‘view from within’ on pitching. It feels like this is my annual gig – if anyone reading this article had the pleasurable/painful (delete as appropriate) experience of reading my article last year you may remember I had quite a few gripes with the way certain clients had treated agencies when it came to ‘direct’ pitches.

Coming from what I thought was a very uneven playing field ridden with cracks containing hidden agendas, I am pleased to report that my experiences in 2013 have seen an outbreak of really good client practice around the pitch process. Yes, that’s right, not a moan in sight. But rather than writing a rather dull article about well-run pitch processes I phoned a number of agency heads and asked them what their thoughts were, sour grapes or false modesty aside, and if there are any trends that I could turn into top tips that can build on the positive steps that we have seen this year.

So here goes…

Jury make up

The process of finding a new direct agency is a major commitment on the part of the client and, if it is to be done well, should be very thorough and include key decision makers throughout the journey.

Practically, I understand that not all clients can be present at all meetings, and often we are seeing senior clients only being brought in right at the end for the final pitch. Finding the right direct agency very often means finding the agency that best demonstrates they have these five qualities:

  • Visionary: they stretch the client’s thinking
  • Practical: they have got under the skin of a client’s business
  • Creative: in their problem solving
  • Technical: they have the experience to work within the current IT set up from day one
  • Chemistry: they are people you would actually like to work with.

But herein lies the problem. These are things that are best teased out across the selection process. It really does take a few dates. So here’s the advice to clients. Make sure your full judging team understands what qualities are under the microscope at what point in the process. Most importantly, make sure any senior clients arriving late into the process understand what has been tested so far, and what’s to be teased out in the final pitch. If necessary re-jig the process so that all of these qualities can be tested by the full selection team. That way you will have a more reasoned and rounded discussion about your future partner.

Pitch fees

There was a drive a while back to ask clients to contribute some money towards the cost of a pitch. Some clients heeded this, recognising they would receive a considerable amount of original thinking from all agencies involved.

But, it would now appear that procurement have got a new angle on pitch fees. They will offer £5,000 or £10,000 but would like the IP of the work assigned to them regardless of whether you are successful in the pitch itself. What you take into the pitch room you leave with them. They can take it and develop it with another agency.

This is not right. If you come across this please say no. Fees were introduced to recognise the amount of work and thinking went into the pitch process, not a cheap way of obtaining the best thinking from the best agencies.

Coming clean

We still live in a land that is happy to publicise any advertising, digital or media pitch but for some reason direct pitches are kept secret. I have never really worked out why this is the case.

But what I do know is that, from an agency viewpoint, this means that you can get all the way from RFI to final pitch and there could still be six or seven agencies involved. Odds few of us would want to play, such is the commitment involved. And from my conversations with other agencies I’m not alone in wanting to see greater transparency around pitch lists.

So there it is.

Less gripey, sure, and I hope that if we can build on the good practices being shown in 2013 we can make the pitch playing field an even more enjoyable arena to play in.

By DMA guest blogger Ben Stephens, Managing Partner at VCCPme and DMA Agencies council member.

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