Here's What Startups Need to Know Before Pitching Their Businesses to Ad Agencies

Spoiler: Too much jargon is never a good look

I would love tech companies to get better at pitching to agencies.

Brands are always looking to gain the edge over their competitors, and ad agencies are forever looking to update their operating model. This means that the partnership opportunities presented by startups, emerging platforms and frontier tech become more tantalizing.

But I’ve sat through a host of startup pitches, from the great to not-so-great, and I need there to be more great ones. So in the spirit of tough love, let’s lay out what’s going to attract an agency’s attention.

Here are four rules tech platforms need to remember when pitching to an ad agency:


Not enough startups or emerging media platforms have read Zero to One by Peter Thiel. He’s a controversial figure for many reasons, but his thoughts on how to position startups within the market are illuminating.

Put simply, if you are aiming to provide services that merely offer incremental improvements over your competitors, you are setting yourself up for failure. Close competition and marginal gains, in his view, lead to a race to the bottom on price.

In such a situation, preexisting relationships count for more. If you are presenting someone with an opportunity that looks close to an existing supplier, why would they risk an untested supplier without significant differences in the offering?

In short, don’t attempt to muscle in on an obvious market. Instead, work to discover a new, previously hidden market and be its first entrant.

Be specific

It may seem shallow, but marketers need to be able to describe your platform or offering in a neat, clean way that instantly clues in the agency and its clients as to what it actually does. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many find this difficult.

Again, two pitfalls here.

First, don’t give your proposition a bland description, such as “We do programmatic-led targeting,” “We do rich display banners” or “We’re a content studio.” It tells the agencies nothing about you.

Second, don’t assault the recipient with buzzwords. Claiming the platform can “engage users via a semantic AI-driven funnel to convert demos into active prospects using real-time sentiment monitoring” doesn’t really land with anyone.

Work hard on nailing the description of what you do. In my time, I’ve met quite a few companies who have crafted perfectly crafted propositions, from “in-game audio ads” to “AR OOH.” Think of how that sits on a media plan—distinct from the other line items around it and clear in its function. Be specific about your platform.


Describing your platform to me in mere words without showing me how it works is like trying to communicate a recipe for vegetarian lasagna via interpretive dance.

If it’s audio visual, people want to see it move. If it’s interactive, they want to play with it. If it’s mar tech, then they want to see the process laid out.

When I met with a holographic message company, they recorded and sent me a message live during the chat. When I met with a virtual meeting space company, they arranged for the meeting to be in one of their virtual spaces.

However, when I met with a metaverse company, they spent the time describing what they had created in the metaverse in words over a Zoom call. See the difference?


If we’re talking to tech and media companies, it’s because we want them to be part of our campaigns. Thus, we are going to need to understand some key features of the offering.

Namely, people want to see where the brand could appear and how it will look to the consumer. Use mock-ups to demonstrate, if you can. They’ll also want to know how people will access it, where it will sit and what is driving them there. They want to know how discerning the platform is for targeting and what metrics are available to measure success.

Lastly, they want to know the cost, and not just the financials. How much effort will it be to take advantage of the opportunity? Will they be able to redeploy existing advertising formats? If not, will partner agencies have the capabilities to make bespoke units?

Any chance to deliver a deeper understanding to an interested party should be seized. As agencies aim to give their brands the edge, a tech or media company that can communicate a differentiated offering in a clean and quantifiable way is in with a chance of being part of the world’s biggest campaigns.