* But both sides must follow them…

I was writing a follow-up to my Top Tips for Chemistry Meetings piece, talking to agency directors about New Business and their frustrations with the pitch process, when, in a spooky bit of timing, up popped a couple of client/agency surveys from the intermediary FindGood and ISBA.

Clearly this topic remains high on everyone’s agenda (although I do agree with some of the the IPA’s criticism of the ISBA/ARC survey).

Like the Brits and the Yanks, clients and agencies seem divided by a common language. At pitch stage, they struggle with differing expectations on key areas like the brief, budgets, timings and even the team (Who’s presenting?! Who’s attending?!). Once in the relationship, clients are generally more satisfied with the creative output than they are with strategy and the ‘backroom’ functions (admin, management, cost control).

There’s no doubt that today’s complex comms landscape is exacerbating this lack of understanding. With multiple solutions to any one challenge, it’s much harder for clients to write a good brief, or even decide which type of agencies to approach.

But the pitch process remains largely stuck in creative ‘show and tell’ mode, often based on a hypothetical brief – rarely giving agencies the chance to demonstrate how they can solve real business challenges. And it’s nowhere near figured out how to test-drive the most important aspect, the on-going client/agency relationship.

Clearly, the pitch process needs to change, but as yet no-one has come up with an effective alternative. As someone who works on both sides of the table – as a Marketing Director and Pitch Consultant – I know there’s no easy fix. But things could improve greatly if both sides followed 3 simple rules;

1. Allow Enough Time

Clients: Don’t underestimate the amount of time an agency needs to respond to a complex brief. If you really do just need a ‘quick fix’, keep the brief focused and simple. Build enough time into the process for progress calls or meetings.

Agencies: Don’t leave everything until the last minute (the amount of times I’ve had the “we’ve got a pitch on Friday, can you come and help us?!” call… How long have you had that brief?!). If you’re at full capacity, get some help in as soon as possible.   Leaving it until the last minute means skimping on the thinking and doesn’t leave enough time for rehearsals. Nothing is more obvious to a client in a pitch than an unrehearsed, incohesive team.

2. Tell the Story

Clients: Keep the brief simple but give as much context as you can. What are the big challenges facing your business? Don’t be too prescriptive. Agencies can help you solve problems in ways you may not have thought of.

Agencies: Challenge the client’s assumptions and don’t be a slave to the brief. Show how you could become an indispensible part of their marketing team by demonstrating your broader expertise. Understand their other marketing activities and give examples of integrated work you’ve done for other clients.

3. Remember the Feedback

Clients: Give honest feedback and don’t hide behind your intermediary. The agencies have invested a huge amount of time and money into understanding your business and you will almost certainly have garnered many good ideas. Be prepared to give some constructive feedback in return. (And, ideally, pay them something for their time and costs).

Agencies: If you don’t win the business, always ask for structured feedback. In all my years of running pitches, only one agency has ever called me direct to ask a few pre-prepared questions. Treat this as a key part of your New Business research – you’ll know from past experience which are your weaker areas, are they to blame again? Which aspects went especially well?

Whether you’re client or agency, if you need some help making your pitch process more effective, just give me a call.