How to quiet pitch alarm bells.

Pitches from agencies – whether they’re focused on media, digital, PR or broader agency of record requirements – are a great opportunity to review and hone your specific requirements as well as your team’s real needs.

Searches also provide a unique window of time to meet some great talent in the industry, hear what they have to offer and then – hopefully – make the best choice for your business.

In addition to leading marketers to their ideal agency partner, these infrequent vantage points can often spur as much introspection as inspiration – because that’s what happens when you invite smart people to talk about how they can help grow and support your business.

That’s how pitches should be.

But while many things will likely go right, things can go awry and we believe there are some warning signs that should have you thinking twice, and some key questions to ask if you’re concerned things aren’t going right:

The guru

‘The guru’ is a person that a pitching agency brings in with expert knowledge of a marketing or industry specific field. And that’s all great. Problem is, the guru is usually in another agency office location or perhaps an industry specialist – who then returns to their original location or job, rarely (if ever) to be seen again.

Question to ask: What’s our access to this person and specifically, how much time will they be spending on our business?

The shiny object

I’ve written before on shiny object syndrome in pitches (and how to avoid it), and it’s worth bringing up here as a warning signal in a pitch. Whether it’s a clever ad, a one-time PR stunt or perhaps a seemingly must-have app, these ‘shiny objects’ or one-off ideas can often distract from marketer’s broader requirements and needs.

Question to ask:  How do you see this idea integrating with our broader requirements and how could it evolve to drive results longer term?

Theatre overload

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for enthusiasm and agencies actively demonstrating their desire to win and work with a particular client, but there’s a difference between enthusiasm and a three-ring circus.  If theatrics are part of your agency pitch – make sure they don’t overshadow the team that’s presenting and the agency’s core offering.

Question to ask:  When the theatrics are removed, what’s left here and how does this agency differentiate itself from others we’re looking at?

It’s all about me

This is something that can go one of two ways:  Either one person dominates the entire meeting – with too large a part in the overall presentation – or the key resources that would be managing the relationship with your team don’t have the opportunity to talk.  Lead role casting sends alarm bells because it offers a myopic view of the team and limits your ability to assess chemistry with other key team members.

Question to ask:  Can we meet with other team members – now or at a later date – without the lead present?

The missing connection

In our view, chemistry is typically the most important aspect of any agency search process because without it, the relationship is almost certainly destined to fail – no matter how smart or creative the pitch may have been.  Any pitch in which your team leaves feeling there was no emotional connection with the agency is likely the day your search process has revealed this isn’t the agency for you.

Question to ask:  What’s missing from this presentation and why is this so important to us as a team?

These are five agency pitch warning signs all marketers should pay attention to during their own searches. Of course these aren’t the only signs to pay attention to, and successful outcomes are highly dependent on well developed and executed search processes.

For a comprehensive guide on how to prepare for your agency search process as well as things to look for (and avoid), call your friendly agency search consultant or check out the guide we wrote for the Association of Canadian Advertisers on Searching For A Marketing Communications Agency Partner: – A Guidebook for Marketers on Agency Searches.


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: Anonymous Account

Please share / like / follow: