Published: Wednesday 1st July 2015

I recently attended a Haymarket New Business Training Day hosted by Camilla Honey and Mark Clark from jfdi. It was an educational tour de force, offering expert strategies and insights for everyone interested in honing their new business skills and helping their agencies grow.

Mark Clark hosted a client panel, which discussed its views of the pitch process – the inside track on what clients really think and value, and what they expect of pitch teams. I thought I’d share some of their views with you (and maybe you’d like to offer your own).

On the panel were:

Alison Williams, Head of Events for L’Oréal Professional Products

Kelly Phillips, Senior Events Manager for EE

Tina Fegent, Director, Tina Fegent Consulting (Procurement)

Here are the headline discussion topics and a summation of the panel’s responses.

How the role and value of marketing has changed over the last 5 -10 years.

No surprises here methinks. The shift from pushing messages to engaging with consumers represents a seismic shift in approach, together with the need to develop the requisite skills to feed consumer demand across a plethora of existing and evolving platforms.

The primary challenge was pinpointed as accelerated knowledge – the need to keep pace with technology and the digital environment, whilst being accountable for the investment into these platforms.

Trigger points for agency reviews

Does anyone relish the prospect of having to go to the dentist? Unless you’re a masochist with a penchant for drills, I’d guess not. And this is the nugget of insight I took from this topic, often overlooked or ignored – clients don’t like pitches. Not one bit. They like it as much as a prolonged visit to the dentist.

It’s hard work, it’s time consuming and it deflects from the day job. Agencies often feel much the same thing, although the undeniable adrenaline hit has its compensations – if they win.

So what are the triggers for putting their business out to pitch?

  • The agency has become stale or complacent, a bit like when you’ve been in the same job for too long. You lose the drive, ambition and imagination to raise the bar higher – there’s an absence of new ideas or a fresh approach. (It seems to me that often this client malaise could be identified earlier to avoid the inevitable, after all it’s better to change the team than lose the business)
  • Key agency personnel leave. It happens, and the client has developed a longstanding and trusting relationship with an individual(s), which they feel cannot be replaced. (Important, therefore, to develop a strong team around the client rather than rely on the trust invested in one highly talented person)
  • The client is looking for new ideas (see point one), or they feel that the cost of the service is simply too high. (Again, business shouldn’t be lost on the basis of cost alone. As in a pitch, if the work blows them away and the team hits the chemistry sweet spot, cost should be a secondary consideration. There’s always a negotiation to be had, so I’m a little doubtful about this one.)

How is the long list compiled?

I suspect we all know this already, but here’s how our panel responded:

  • Clients read the trade press, they do. So they are conscious of feted campaigns and the agencies/individuals responsible
  • They’re also aware of the movers and shakers in the industry. They note who’s speaking where and who’s communicating an interesting POV
  • They take notice of agency award wins (note to the sceptical)
  • They look for evidence of innovation
  • They talk to other people within their organisations (other divisions), who may be working with different agencies to seek guidance

This highlights the importance of agency marketing, and particularly for those who are smaller and/or less well known.

The role of procurement (and getting those RFIs right)

  • Procurement often assist in putting together the long list, given their knowledge of the organisation’s roster agencies, plus their insight into the overall sector
  • These days, they have a far better understanding of marketing and are often embedded within the marketing teams
  • RFIs are either read by procurement alone, or together with the marketing team. They will have researched each agency first (see point one)
  • Tick all the corporate governance criteria and most important, be open and transparent
  • Do all you can to differentiate your agency from the competition in responses; inject some personality together with additional agency value
  • Use a short executive summary to express your understanding of and commitment to the client’s business – don’t miss this opportunity to shine
  • Engage with procurement throughout the process. If the pitch is a winning one, appointing the right agency for the job is a no-brainer. Procurement will negotiate the fee – in that order.

How to get the pitch process right

  • Make sure you request face-to-face meetings with all clients involved in the process (I believe this a pre-requisite for agreeing to pitch)
  • Sometimes clients ask for one thing in a brief, whereas in reality they want another (and you’ll only learn by probing, asking the right questions and listening)
  • Question the budget and most importantly, stick to it
  • Explore their views on what has run before, their benchmarks, what did/didn’t work and why
  • On the pitch day, bring in the very best team you have. Those who will perform, persuade, who have passion and expertise
  • The idea has to be brilliant and compelling, even if it isn’t necessarily the one they feel is right. As long as it ignites the audience it’s a job well done (remember that in most pitches, the idea that wins is rarely the one that runs – at least intact)
  • Show you really, really want the business

JFDI runs three Pitch Academies created specifically to deliver competitive advantage and therefore help agencies win new business. ‘Pitch To Win’ is designed to evaluate and refine your current pitch process; ‘Pitch Presentation’ to improve your pitch performance and ‘Pitch Leadership’ to develop your pitch leadership skills. There’s more information here or call the team on 01451 844047.

Janine Abrahams