Deciding to pitch for new business can be a daunting process, you never know if a potential client is truly sincere in looking for a new partner – or if its just a regular process the organisation needs to go through. Trying to suss out a client’s true intentions can be an uphill battle, especially with client briefings being akin to attending blind dates.
According to Goh Shufen, founder of R3, how a client manages a pitch says a lot about the organisation’s culture and attitude towards marketing and partners.
Marketing spoke to some industry friends to find out their thoughts on the matter.
Red flag 1: “No budget, it depends on your creative idea.”
Several said the client’s attitude towards a pitch can often be told from how they communicate their budget requirements for the pitch. If not clearly defined, it is indicative that a client is likely to be troublesome.
“Everyone always has a budget in mind. If the client upon insistence doesn't provide a budget, it's sometimes indicative of 'just fishing',” Preetham Venkky, business director of KRDS Singapore.
Red flag 2: “Please propose budget”
According to Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director of creative agency Formul8, this can also sometimes mean that the client really does not have a budget which is sizable enough to carry a campaign forward.
This is also a red flag for Pat Law, founder of Goodstuph, who said this usually means a "minion" has been tasked to write the brief and he/she does not have a close enough relationship with the boss to know what the budget is. It also shows that the client has no experience with agencies and hence doesn't know what an appropriate budget is.
It can also indicate, of course, that "they already have an agency in mind, all they need now is three quotes because of SOP (standard operational procedure)"
Red flag 3: No clear target audience
Law said there are often clients who have no idea who they want with briefs stating very vaguely "This campaign needs to reach out to both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans."
Having a brief which is too brief is also an issue. Tender documents which contain insufficient or incomplete information are also a red flag. This ranges from target audiences, key performance indicator (KPIs) and client expectations.
In the case of digital and media agencies, KPIs are especially important in order to help manage client expectations on measuring the campaign’s success. Undefined KPIs indicate a lack of focus and/or understanding of the medium. The same goes for unclear objectives which can be in conflict with one another.
KRDS' Venkky said, "If they aren't clear about why the pitch has been called for, or if the answers don't include the incumbent and/or their performance, then you should be rethinking pitching."
Red flag 4: Reluctance to give more materials and resources
Hesitance to provide more information and materials is bad news and one which should be avoided at all costs.
"If they can’t respect that you need sufficient information to prepare a proper response, then it’s highly likely they will always expect you to perform miracles and treat that as de rigueur,” Bartholomeusz said.
Red flag 5: Too little time
Agencies are always swamped - and clients know this. So if they aren't giving you enough time, your alarm bells need to be ringing.
Venkky said, "Having a short turnaround time to prepare for presentations and submissions is also another key indicator that a client is uninterested or simply just disorganised."
"When a client expects a pitch deliverables list that reads like a long menu and gives you a very short runway to prepare for it, and on top of everything, they remind you that they’re not paying a pitch fee – red flag," Bartholomeusz added.
Red flag 6: Pitch presentation held over holiday season
This is just horrifying, we think. And it needs to stop. But the truth is, it still hasn't and probably won't for a long time.
Bartholomeusz said, "When the client gleefully tells you at the briefing that they want to hold the pitch presentation over the Xmas/New Year period and how it’s a good test of the agency’s dedication. Don’t walk, run!"
Red flag 7: "Please allow for unlimited changes"
Unlimited changes is an issue that we covered in Marketing when sometime back in February this year, a government tender brief asking for “unlimited changes” made its rounds in the design community. Following the outrage, the Ministry of Finance put out a statement saying it looked into the matter and agreed that it is unfair to expect the suppliers to agree to unlimited changes.
Goodstuph's Law said, "This just gives the impression that the client was born with a domestic helper from his or her first burp and has never even lifted a finger to tie his or her own shoe laces. And he or she has an MBA so agencies need to bow to him or her. The King of Marketing who has no clue what he wants!"
Red flag 8: It keeps picking the incumbent despite calling for yearly/regular pitches
Self explanatory. The brief is made for the incumbent.
Red flag 9: Pride over inviting multiple agencies for a pitch
Formul8's Bartholomeusz said this indicates that they are probably shopping for ideas.
"They are probably taking yours and giving it to the cheapest agency, who coincidentally had nearly the same idea you did when it goes to launch," she said.
"Something agencies do not do enough, is being true to the type of clients they desire," said R3's Goh. She added that in R3's experience, the clearer an agency is about what they stand for, the clearer its new business strategy and approach. Hence, the higher the hit rate.
Moving forward, R3’s Goh said that when it comes to assessing whether a pitch is worth going for, agencies can look at three aspects – the brief, the process and the people. Remember, every meeting is a mini chemistry session.
Here are questions agencies should be asking themselves.
- Is the RFP clearly defining the client’s expectations of an agencies’ role?
- Is the client clear and open about their current issues and future goals?
- Is there a briefing and what was the quality of the brief?
- Are they open about their evaluation criteria?
- Have they thought through their elimination process?
- Do they have senior people leading the process?
- Do agencies have access to senior decision makers for guidance or direction?
- Are they building in key assessment checkpoints and feedback to ensure level playing field and transparency?
- Basic courtesy like punctuality, being engaged (rather than checking phones) says a lot about how much they respect your time .. and what kind of client they’ll be.
- How do they relate to each other?
- Do they ask good questions?
“We constantly remind our clients that in a pitch, it should always be a two way process, and the agencies are “judging” you as much as you’re assessing them. A company that values professionalism and people are more likely to be clients who are motivating to work with,” Goh said.
Read also: Agencies, stop pitching for every account