Calling for a pitch? Here's how you can make agencies prioritise yours

The clarity on the advertiser's pitch process, including the evaluation criteria and the ultimate decision makers, is the most important factor that media agency executives consider when prioritising pitches and determining how much time and money they invest. Out of five, this factor received an average score of 4.26.

According to a study by ID Comms in partnership with the 4As which surveyed media agency leaders across the US, the failure of brands sufficiently defining what they are looking for and refusing to share details around the agency selection process, will result in advertisers failing to get the best responses from potential media agency partners. This is because the lack of clarity will lead to increase in financial costs and usage of resources for the agencies involved, or simply make it harder for them to identify ways to best meet the advertiser's needs.

Meanwhile, media pricing exercises were consistently highlighted as an unproductive element of the pitch process, requiring "heavy" agency resource throughout multiple rounds of bidding, the study said. Such exercises were also often managed inconsistently and lacked clarity, the agency leaders surveyed said.

As such, the study stated that a transparent pitch brief benefits marketers through more strategically focused ideas (4.45), better quality agency talent working on the pitch and ultimately the account if they win (4.43) and a higher level of engagement from the wider agency team (4.43).

Although the research is based on US experiences, ID Comms North America CEO Tom Denford believes that it is relevant to marketers in Asia as well because it "paints a similar picture" to what it has experienced in many other markets worldwide. Across Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa, marketers also need to consider how to ensure they get the best possible commitment from agencies participating in pitches, Denford said.

He also described pitches as "a big drain" on media agency resources, which is often handling multiple reviews simultaneously. "While agencies have gotten better in recent years at prioritising the pitches they compete for and being more focused with their resources, more discipline on the advertiser side would enable agencies to be more strategic and do better work," he said. Denford added:

A clearer pitch process enables all participating agencies to present their best talent, resources and ideas to the advertiser. This in turn creates more business value for the advertiser.

(Read also: 9 reasons not to pitch for that account)

Five key stages hampered by inefficiencies

When asked about the detail of the pitch process, respondents noted five key stages that are often impeded by inefficiencies - RFI stage, RFP stage, chemistry sessions, final presentations and contract negotiations.

Agency respondents described the RFI phase as "typically too demanding", pointing out that specific requests such as creating an expensive video submission during this stage or requiring too much detail on master service agreements (MSA), added "significant" upfront resource requirements and costs for outputs. These costs and resources, agency respondents said, could be put to more productive use later in the pitch process and should not be part of this early "filtering" stage.

In response, the study advised advertisers to focus their efforts on gathering the information they need to identify partners with the right capabilities, instead of demanding "slick videos" or going into legal detail at this stage.

Frequently having to answer unclear or generic, lengthy RFP briefs, make this stage an "overly onerous and unproductive" one for agencies. The study noted that RFPs would benefit more from focused questions surrounding thought leadership, to effectively offer valuable insight on capabilities and expertise.

"Advertisers should focus on the key questions that relate to their particular business challenges. Fewer, but more important questions would stop this stage feeling generic and untailored to the advertiser’s needs," the study read.

Meanwhile, the focus of chemistry sessions being typically unclear to agencies is also another factor that hampers the pitch process. While some clients expect a working-session, others expect a progress check-in and some use the session only to gauge agency culture and personalities. Agency respondents were also concerned about the growing number of live meetings and the depth of content required for each session, often needing to coordinate across multiple markets.

Agency respondents prefer expectations to be well communicated so they are able to prepare and use resources selectively to make the chemistry session more productive for both parties. The study recommended advertisers to focus on delivering greater clarity surrounding chemistry meetings to ensure that agencies know exactly what is expected of them, and also be mindful of the resource required when going beyond a basic meet and greet session.

Final presentations were indicated as the peak pain point (4.05) for agencies, as it usually involves the highest level of senior management engagement and resource investment of the entire pitch process. While the resource and senior management engagement were seen as justified, respondents were concerned about the tight timelines often set for final presentation deadlines. As such, advertisers should offer more realistic timelines and review agency work in the lead up to the final presentation. This is to ensure that everyone is focused on the right challenges and the agency has adequate time to prepare and present its best work.

Lastly, respondents recommended that contracts should only reviewed towards the later stages of the pitch process, to ensure the level of resource investment is proportional to its significance in the overall process. More importantly, advertisers should ensure that only those agencies with a realistic chance of winning their business have to invest resources in detailed contract negotiations, the study said.

"Advertisers should aim to have the MSA agreed in advance of final presentations, to help more efficient negotiations focused on scope and resources, rather than creating conflict and delay over commercial terms so late in the process," the study said.

Matt Kasindorf, SVP management services, 4A’s said advertisers need to think deeply about how they run their pitches as they look to get the very best out of the agency community.

"This is a competitive industry and everyone wants to show their best face but agencies need clarity on the advertiser’s goals and objectives if they are to identify the more appropriate solutions. Better structured pitches can help our members to demonstrate the value they can add more effectively," he said.

Respondents represent agencies from both major advertising holding companies and the independent sector. The 4A’s and ID Comms will use the insights gathered to form a plan to address the major pain points, which, currently risk sub-optimal outcomes for both agencies and advertisers. The goal is to help marketing and procurement leaders understand how to improve current practices and design agency pitches in a way that is more productive and tests capabilities in a more effective way.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)