Running an effective pitch process

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Ollie Bailey


December 4, 2019

As an agency we are supposed to roll our eyes at a pitch and do everything we can to avoid them, and there are legitimate reasons for this. But the honest truth is, we love a pitch when it’s run correctly

Commercially, pitches can be a nuisance; we have to take team members off paid projects, often at short notice, and there’s the obvious risk of no return. But that’s a challenge as agency leaders we plan for - no matter how many blog posts or industry figures advise against pitches, it’s not a process that looks like it will end any time soon.

So we embrace it, and enjoy it.

Firstly, there are a number of benefits of a pitch for our agency:

  • Pulling together the pitch team, aligning everybody to the goals of both the clients’ objectives and the agency’s desire to win the work can create a real buzz in the team. Win or lose, this is great for building culture across our agency - especially when we celebrate the successes.
  • Meeting new people, understanding how different organisations and sectors structure themselves and the challenges they face is exciting and brings new experience.
  • We won’t and don’t win all pitches but a loss is an opportunity to learn where we need to get stronger so that we can pick ourselves up and be better moving forward.

But being an agency that likes to pitch doesn’t mean we pitch for everything. We have to identify the opportunities that are right for us.

Before we agree to participate in a process, there is the usual qualification criteria we follow (budget, timescales, number of agencies participating etc.). However one of the most important factors for our team is the decision-making criteria being used to appoint a partner.

If you're looking for a proposed solution to their pitch brief as part of our response, whether that’s design, technical architecture or other recommendations, we won't usually respond.

As a strategic agency, we help our clients understand the problem with their challenges through various research methods. Only then do we get into concepts, solution design, user testing etc. A process that if done correctly, is likely to take longer than the average pitch turnaround time.

Asking to see a solution up-front means you’d be basing your decision on something that isn’t a fair representation of our capabilities. An agency doesn’t have the answers but what it does have is the expertise to get to the answers.

This isn’t the argument against agencies doing work for free or a lobby to end the pitch process. This is about encouraging the judging of an agency on a fair set of criteria.

We do appreciate the flip side; you are making an investment into an agency financially, emotionally and personally; you need reassurances and you want to know that you are appointing a competent agency that will deliver quality.

At Absurd we believe an agency appointment should be made on three pillars; experience, approach and chemistry.

  • Experience - Ask us who we’ve worked with and how this can benefit you. What do we know about your industry? Do we have any initial hypothesis’ to discuss? Find out who’s going to be working on your account and what their CVs look like.
  • Approach - Ask us how we work, the processes we have in the agency and what the approach for delivering your project could look like; how flexible is it? What are the layers of communication? What style of project management will we undertake? Why? How would we work with your roster?
  • Chemistry - Does the relationship feel right? Are we going to do great work together?

We know pitches are part of our world and that’s why there’s no point shying away from them or viewing them negatively. It’s up to an agency to qualify an opportunity and work out if it’s for them, but asking for the right kind of response will set up the relationship on the right footing for moving forward.

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