Pitch etiquette for clients and agencies

No matter which side of the table you’re on during an agency pitch process, there are some basic rules everyone should follow to show courtesy, respect and good corporate manners.

At the end of the day, both sides should recognize the effort that’s been put in to the presentation that’s being made and indeed the complexities of conducting a fair, transparent pitch with multiple stakeholders and agency participants.

So wherever you’re at in a current or prospective pitch process, here are some fundamental courtesies everyone should extend:


Turn your phones off

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. And while this may appear to be just a distraction, you’re probably shooting your own agency in the foot if someone’s phone goes off during your presentation.

Talk to everyone in the room

Introductions are done and you’ve figured out who are the really senior players in the room. Making eye contact and talking only to those individuals is not only rude, it’s a potentially fatal mistake.  Agencies frequently underestimate the influence of manager level participants as they’re generally the ones who have to manage the relationship day-to-day. So please – talk to everyone – not just those who you think are most influential.

Keep to time

Most – if not all – pitches have a defined time limit for each agency presentation and everyone on your team should be mindful of time allocated.  As you watch the clock, build in time for questions from the room – taking time to allow questions that can clear something up there and then, can sometimes make the difference between winning and coming second.

Make presentations readable

Cramming lots of words on a single slide or preparing your presentation in small type is, well… shortsighted.  Either way you’re taking away from what you’re really trying to say.  If you’re reading what’s on the slide – it’s likely dull.  And if your type is small or unreadable it’s likely just not going to be read.

Stick to the rules

Generally speaking, pitch requests come with some form of guidelines or terms and conditions that marketers ask agencies to adhere to.  Those terms have been thought through and included for good reason – to keep the evaluation process fair, to work within internal guidelines and  / or work within best practices. Breaking those guidelines or terms sends the message your agency doesn’t take direction well and is disrespectful.


Keep focused

Pulling a pitch presentation together takes real effort, dedication and coordination and you’ll find most agencies have been up late the night before rehearsing what they’re going to show you. Checking email or chatting with your colleagues during presentations can be distracting and disrespects the effort and hard work agencies put into the process.

Provide water

Presenting is thirsty work and even the best agencies have team members who might be nervous.  So if the presentation happens to be at your offices your minimum hospitality should be to offer water to those presenting.

Treat everyone equally

Whether or not you choose to answer specific questions, provide strategic or creative direction, pay for travel and spec work (yes, that’s a whole other topic), it’s important to treat all agencies fairly and equally. If you’re providing information or additional support to one agency – you must do it for all.

Be transparent

Transparency is always your best policy. Let agencies know how they’re being evaluated and what your next steps are in the process once they’ve presented. Take time to answer questions and give feedback.

Provide constructive feedback

Given the hard work and effort that’s gone into agency presentations, constructive feedback after the pitch is completed is always welcome.  I’ve personally never come across an agency that hasn’t welcomed feedback, so a little time and effort to acknowledge their efforts in the process, and summarize their strengths and weaknesses, shows you recognize their hard work and will help them in future.

Whether you’re an agency or a marketer, following some basic rules of pitch etiquette can help ease pressures, tensions and uncertainties during any pitch process. 

So just as you take time to prepare your request for an agency search, or create a compelling presentation for a potential client, take time to think about how your brand can extend to pitch etiquette during a search process.

Little effort. A small amount of time. No cost. And just the right thing to do.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

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