I've participated in a zillion agency pitches over the course of my career. All have been on the side of the pitcher, rather than the pitchee. Does that make me an expert? I'm not sure it does. So with apologies to every new business consultant I've worked with and the many more I hope to work with in the future, here are six new business pitch ideas I'd like to share. They're written in the spirit of inspiring the best response from an agency, while producing the ideal outcome for a client.
1. Start by not pitching: Even the best agency partnerships go through their fair share of ups and downs. Before entering a pitch, give your incumbent agency an opportunity to turn things around. An early call to your agency's CEO to say, "Things are not going well" will resolve your issues nine out of 10 times. There's too much at stake not to. As hungry as agencies are to chase new clients, we have a lot of admiration for clients that show long-term commitment to agency partnerships -- they're they most attractive clients to work with.
2. Don't invite the incumbent to re-pitch: If a concerted effort to get the agency back on track doesn't produce results, then you should call a pitch. You might think you're doing the right thing to give the incumbent a chance to defend the business, and for agencies, it's hard to turn this chance down. But few agency executives are great statisticians. They believe that even 5 percent chance is a chance.
Not inviting incumbents has several benefits. First, it gives the agency and its staff the time and focus to prepare for life without you. Second, it removes all doubt from participating agencies that this is a fishing expedition or just an opportunity to sharpen terms with an existing agency. As a result, you will get 200 percent effort from every agency participating.
3. Don't provide a brief for the introduction meeting: Agencies are very good at playing back your brief or responding with very slick responses to an RFI. Consultant Robb High recommends inviting the agency to meet with no brief. Let the agency decide who should attend and what to present. It will tell you a lot about the agency by whom and how many people they bring, how they conduct the meeting, what they present and how good they are on their feet.
4. Have lunch with the CMO: There's nothing more thrilling than the glitz and drama of an agency pitch presentation. They're usually polished events where agencies are on top of their game. But when the lights and curtains come down, what you're really left with is how you work with these folks and that's when the personal relationships and chemistry with an agency really counts. Just before the final pitch meeting, organize a lunch with your CMO and agency CEO. Get to know who they are. Is this someone you want to work with? Do they get you? Can you see yourself having a productive working relationship? Are they going to add value, enthusiasm and help to steer the day-to-day team?
5. Negotiate compensation terms before the final pitch: Understandably, clients don't want to overpay for agency services. Equally, an agency will want to put strong people on a potential new account. Usually it's only after the final pitch when the clients start negotiating the fee. The potential for an agency and client being disappointed down the line is high. Several years ago I pitched a major consumer packaged-goods account and they asked for fee proposals right up front. After evaluating the different proposals, they established the fee that they were prepared to pay. Before the pitch, every participating agency went in knowing the compensation proposal. It was a very fair process, and the client set the right expectations for the agencies pitching.
6. Get the right team: I'm actually a fan of doing the big pitch presentation. But let's face it: most of the time, what's presented in the finals is rarely executed and therefore is quite wasteful. I once participated in a pitch where the client's emphasis was just in finding the right team. They insisted on only meeting the account director, creative team and the media planning director. They also insisted that they didn't need people with category experience, just a proven team. They asked us to only present examples of work that we had developed together and really wanted to understand what it was like to work with us. That's the kind of progressive thinking that makes for the ultimate new business pitch scenario.
Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia. He can be reached at Antony.Young@optimedia-us.com.