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Why agencies need to look at the bigger picture in a pitch

Why agencies need to look at the bigger picture in a pitch

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

Heard about the agency which had a complete refurb of its offices, decking them out in the corporate colours of a brand in order to win the client’s business?

Or what about the agency that made representatives from a train company wait for 45 minutes before making their pitch so the brand could relate to how their customers felt?

Stories like this are legendary in agency land. But should marketers be blinded by the theatrics? And just what is the best way to approach the pitch process?

For the MD of Euro RSCG KLP, Hugh Treacy, it’s all about looking at the bigger picture and following a journey that results in the eventual pitch day itself.

“Theatrics have their place in the pitch process, but things have moved on a bit in recent years,” he told UTalkMarketing.

“There’s always the question on clients’ minds of ‘are they hungry enough?’ and ‘have they gone the extra mile?’. Theatrics can demonstrate this. But more and more, pitches are not just about the final showdown.”

According to the MD of the agency whose clients include Nokia, Britvic, Pepsi, Total, Budweiser and the TDA, just as the pitch process has evolved, so too should the agency’s approach.

For those unfamiliar with the process, on the back of an agency’s credentials, initial Chemistry Meetings will often take place to see if there is a people and culture fit between client and agency.

That being successful, a brief will follow backed in many circumstances with the clients offering a Work in Progress meeting (and if it’s not offered, KLP request it as a matter of course). It’s a chance for an agency to question the brief – or even disagree with it – and for both sides to see how respective chemistry is developing.

Further Q&A sessions are often arranged along the way in the lead up to the eventual Pitch itself. And even after the pitch presentation, performance at follow-up meetings / procurement discussions is absolutely still part of the process.

“It’s a gradual process and involves an ongoing dialogue. If the final pitch day itself is just a bit of theatre, then it misses the point. Rather you need to be sprinkling a bit of theatre in the mix all along the way,” Treacy explained.

“There is however the danger of peaking too early, raising the bar at the Chemistry Meeting, and setting the bar too high to be built on. Yes, there is room to rollout the red carpet but you need to be thinking of the overall process.”

He added, “Or course there are times when theatrics are completely wrong. If it doesn’t come naturally and isn’t appropriate to clients then don’t do it. It could ruin the relationship.”

That’s not to say that KLP isn’t immune to a touch of theatrics itself. The agency won an account from a drinks brand after being asked to create a campaign to cut-through the hugely competitive and cluttered on-trade environment.

The pitch was presented in a crowded bar, the thinking being that if it worked in this environment, it would work in bars up and down the country. However, things admitted don’t always run as smoothly.

“During one recent pitch we had a great chemistry meeting and nailed the creative idea at the WIP meeting,” Treacy recalled.

“The client thought that had we actually presented this on pitch day we would have won. But come pitch day it was almost a re-presentation of the same idea and it fell a bit flat. In retrospect, we should have held back.”

So in doing prep and research for a pitch, how can agencies best prepare?

Treacy’s advice is to look at much as possible at the client representatives and decision makers who will be involved in the pitch. LinkedIn can be invaluable for this.

He also suggests looking at brands they have worked on previously. It’s still worth referencing such projects to build resonance even if the agency has had little or no experience of the brands.

“We work on forming an opinion on what the client is doing,” added Treacy. “Furthermore, if you are working with a referral body or consultant it’s amazing how helpful, objective and surprisingly open they can be.

“As to whether you need to simply answer the brief or go beyond it? Well, you should find this out before presenting your answer to the brief. You need to question whether you need to look beyond it though the Q&As in advance of pitch day. It can be a dangerous game if the first time you challenge the brief is on the pitch day itself”

He also warned agencies of bringing too much into the pitch, encroaching on the territories covered by existing agencies in the client roster.

“During the pitch process clients are not only asking themselves ‘can we work with them on a day to day basis?’, but ‘can this agency work with our others?’, ‘Can they work in collaboration with our existing partners ? And at the same time, will they challenge them?” advised Treacy.

“Clients are forever judging an agency and, for us, being open, honest and transparent is vital. But we’re always learning. No new business pitch is ever the same. The audience, personalities, nature of business and brief itself are always unique.”

He concluded, “There is no set winning formula,  - but sticking to one’s principles ; learning from mistakes and building on successes ; whilst demonstrating passion and hunger for the business throughout the ever-elongated pitch process - all help narrow the odds.  In this business you always have to be open to ideas.”

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