Pitch? Or pass?

Pitch or pass? Here’s why agencies need to be as choosy about the clients they pitch and take on, as the clients are about choosing them. And in our view why chemistry, canvas, chaos and cash are the keys to decide whether to pitch or pass.

More on those in a minute, but first, consider what it actually takes to pitch a piece of business:


If you’re in it to win it, you’re asking your pitch team to put in a tremendous amount of effort to put your agency’s best foot forward in an effort to win the business at hand. Almost always this involves double-duty for those working on existing businesses and a lot of late nights and working weekends to come up with a winning pitch.


Pitch team aside, the rest of the agency has to keep existing business moving seamlessly through the agency, while the pitch team needs to take priority across valuable project management, strategy, creative and studio resources.  Both sets of business have to be squeezed through without sacrificing quality or sanity.

Missed opportunities

While focused on the potential new client and their pitch, what other opportunities might the agency miss along the way?  In addition to other new business opportunities that may be a better match or potentially easier to win, consider what incremental opportunities might be at stake from incumbent clients.

Employee burn-out

Time, effort, rehearsals, late nights and long weekends can all take their toll on those involved in a pitch, so being selective in how hard you work your pitch teams is key to avoiding burn-out.  Just as important is the impact on morale – because win or lose, pitch teams will want time to take stock of what worked / what didn’t and to recharge between pitches.


Whether you’re doing spec work and getting paid for it, or not doing spec work at all, there are likely costs you’ll be incurring to get the pitch the way you want it.  Freelancers, overtime, rush studio charges and perhaps that ‘over-and-above’ idea your team wants to render, all take money away from the bottom-line at the end of the year.

So while there may be any number of upsides in pitching new business and potentially growing the agency, there are just as many risks and downsides, which is why agencies should be as choosy as clients when it comes to new business opportunities.

One agency CEO shared that he was lamenting a morale problem because his agency was pitching a ‘massive piece of business’ which he knew wasn’t a good fit and was turning them inside out.  “So why pitch?” I asked.  “Because there would be hell to pay from our holding company if we didn’t…” was his reply.

That’s tough for anyone, but even agencies without holding company parents are challenged when it comes to being choosy about who they pitch, and many don’t consider the ramifications of well-intentioned efforts.

So back to chemistry, canvas, chaos and cash and an easy to remember way to size up whether a new business opportunity is right for your agency:


I’ve never seen a pitch that hasn’t ultimately been decided on the chemistry between the client and the resources who’ve pitched the business.  Yes, strategy, creative and cost all came into it – but for the most part chemistry was the thing that clinched it.  So figure out quickly whether there’s real chemistry between you and your prospective client.  And if there isn’t, let it go.


Establish the canvas that the potential client offers and how it’s potentially going to add value to the agency.  Sure, profit is important, but will else is going to help raise your profile – as well as that of the client?  Is it strategic thinking, digital execution, a fresh creative platform, branding or perhaps design? Defining the non-monetary aspects of value will not only help you decide whether the business is right for you, but it will likely help you create a stronger value proposition for the client you’re pitching.


Yes, that’s right – chaos!  Agencies (and clients) need to consider how much chaos a piece of business is going to bring to an agency during a pitch process – and after it’s won.  Sizeable, highly demanding or complex pieces of business can not only turn an agency inside-out, it can fundamentally change its dynamic causing resource and financial turmoil.  So before pitching, sketch out your own chaos theory on what your new client could bring and how you plan to mitigate it before you start.


High profile brands or clients with big budgets can be an overwhelmingly tempting reason to pitch.  But at the end of the day, everyone needs to make a fair profit to make all the effort worthwhile, while considering the implications for the agency in the event budgets get cut or things don’t go the way you’d planned.

So, pitch or pass?  Or just buyer beware?  In fact it’s neither.  It’s a reality check on the adrenaline of pitching new business and why agencies should be choosier in their new business efforts to create a win-win for everyone.


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: Aftab Uzzaman

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