Make your agency search less of a corporate gamble

Once a decision has been made to call an agency pitch, it can sometimes be tempting to just dive in and start the ball rolling without thinking about the bigger picture – or indeed consequences – of how important setting the foundation for a pitch really is. 

Frequently, false starts include calling and booking time with favourite agencies in order to identify a favoured short-list.  We hear it all the time – ‘we’re already talking to so-and-so because they did a great commercial for such-and-such…’ – please make sure they’re on the list.

This is perhaps the worst way to initiate a pitch because it circumvents a real understanding of why you’re looking for a new agency, and ultimately the agency that is going to really be able to meet your needs long-term.  A bit like building a house without putting down a proper foundation.

To avoid the inevitable collapse of an ill-conceived pitch process (and believe me, it is inevitable if you don’t have a strong foundation), here are some key questions to ask to make sure you’re setting yourself, and your organization up for success:

Why are you calling a pitch? 

Sounds like a daft question, but it’s the most important question of the lot. If you’re coming up with something like, “we don’t like our current agency” you have to ask why. More importantly, you have to look within your own organization and ask what’s missing, what you could do better or what led you to this point. A pitch is a great time for introspection to help you create a better environment for any agency you work with.

What are you really looking for?

In an AOR or brand pitch, nine times out of ten, we hear ‘creative’ as the number one search criteria.  But if you go back to the previous question and really do your homework, you’d be surprised at how that answer quickly changes. Really understanding your own organization and your incumbent agency before you begin can really help you define what you’re really looking for – not just what you’d like to think you’re looking for.

Is our proposed process fair?

Any pitch process has to be fair and equal for all.  Inviting your incumbent agency just to be polite, or inviting another agency because someone knows someone and the optics would look good, isn’t fair.  It’s a waste of the agency’s time, money and resources, and it’s a waste of your time. Any agency invited to participate in your pitch process must have an equal chance of winning against the other candidates.  And if you can’t say that – then you shouldn’t be including them.  Period.

Is there a hidden agenda?

“Of course not!” we hear you cry… but really, are you sure?  Here are a couple of thoughts around hidden agendas: 

Are you asking your agencies to jump through creative, strategic or media hoops when the real issue is something else – like cost?  Do you have multiple asks, but you’re really only wanting to see spectacular creative?  Or perhaps, are there internal politics or biases that you wouldn’t discuss in front of all agencies that might influence a final decision? 

So, be honest with yourself and within your organization – if there’s any hidden or political agenda within your organization, it needs to be placed under scrutiny and resolved prior to a pitch process starting. Good pitch consultants won’t be afraid to help you uncover and address those kinds of challenges – and a neutral third party perspective can help solve these.

How will you evaluate agencies?

Well that’s easy – ‘we create a scorecard and vote, right?‘  In theory, yes.  But the reality is most pitch processes become emotional when the final choice is being made.  Pitch scorecards go out the window and a subjective evaluation of speculative ideas takes centre stage.  It’s essential to understand your evaluation mechanisms and clearly define how and what to do in a tie-break situation and who’s really making the final call – and why. 

There’s a lot more that goes into setting the foundation for a successful pitch process, but if you’re eager to get going, these questions will at least help ensure you’re off to a reasonable start.  And your search less of a corporate gamble.

How do you plan to take the guesswork out of your next agency search?


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

Photo: DorkyMum
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