What marketers should consider before kicking off a pitch

The search of a new agency can be really tedious for marketers out there. Not only it is costly and time-consuming, it can often be disruptive to the daily work routine.

In mid November, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) and global consulting firm R3 Worldwide had jointly launched a guide book called "Finding An Agency" to address multiple issues faced by marketers and agencies these days.

On the back of the book launch, Khairudin Rahim (pictured), CEO of  4As and Seema Punwani, principal consultant of R3  sat down with A+M to talk about some of the prevalent issues plaguing Malaysian marketers and agencies - especially during a pitch process.

What to consider before launching into a pitch:

  • Getting internally aligned

Rahim said marketers should first have full agreement with all the parties involved internally on  what they want from the agencies in terms of requirement.If the client company has a procurement division, it will make more sense that the marketing or corporate communications involve these colleagues from the outset, rather than just bringing them in at the end to discuss the contract and terms. He added a clear brief to help the agency is also needed.

“Invest time and effort in agreeing the budget and producing a written brief describing the brand or company’s current position, and where it wants to be in the context of clear marketing and business objectives,” he added.

If an agency search is deemed to be the right course of action, ensure that the client company’s top management fully endorse it, and the key decision makers are clearly identified and enlisted in the process.

Seema Punwani, R3 Worldwide’s principal consultant agreed with Rahim and added that the most important thing, is that a marketer should have an introspect reason as to why a pitch is being considered, and this should be discussed amongst all stakeholders before arriving at a decision to pitch.

She added that many times, the answer lies in working more effectively with the existing agency and trying to ‘rebuild’ the relationship and it doesn't necessarily command a need to look for a new agency.

She added:

A client-agency relationship is not very different from a marriage. So before thinking ‘divorce,’ think about working on the marriage.

  • Have a clear reason as to why the pitch is needed.

If a pitch is really needed, Punwani said, marketers should conduct an analysis - either by themselves or with a consultant, to arrive at the agency model.

For example, marketers might be having issues such as its lead creative agency not having strong digital talent, so the solution may not be to replace like for like, but instead to look for a specialised digital agency. It’s also crucial to come up with the areas where existing agency is not performing and the expectations from the new agency. The long list can then be dictated by the “needs” analysis and the expectation from the new agency, cutting down time being wasted for both the agencies pitching and the time-starved client.

Rahim added that before calling for a pitch, the marketer also needs to decide if he is "the orchestrator of a series of agency relationships" where a range of agencies report back to him, or if he will have a lead agency which will handle all the other smaller firms to ensure consistency or simply needs a one-stop-shop.

  • Ethics and professionalism

Rahim added that marketers should also consider informing their existing agency that the review of arrangements is taking place, weighing the need for confidentiality against the scenario of the incumbent finding out about the review from another source rather than a client. That could sour the relationship.

On the cost front, we all know the traditional pitch process is often expensive for both parties. Rahim said it’s best to agree fees where appropriate to offset a fair proportion of agency costs and to ensure a professional approach on both sides.

Rahim added that many successful agency appointments are based on reputation, personal chemistry, credentials and references from other clients, as opposed to pitches. Workshop and trial projects are also effective methods of choosing an agency.

Bad pitch behaviour

Avoiding bad pitch behavior is a must for any brand looking to safe guard its reputation. And today's day and age, it doesn't take long for a brand's reputation to get marred. The duo also highlighted some ways to avoid bad pitch behaviour.

  • Respect the incumbent

One bad behavior, highlighted by Punwani is when an incumbent finds out from outside that their account is being pitched. Communication about the pitch needs to be handled sensitively- before, during and after the pitch.

Rahim seconded the statement adding that marketers should also not be inviting the incumbent agency to pitch if they know the agency is not in with an equal fighting chance. In such cases, an open and honest conversation is necessary.  After the pitch is over, the losing agencies should also hear from the marketers to ensure all participating agencies learn of the result on the same day.

In fact, said Rahim, the agencies should also be told on what they did that was markedly  better that others and what others did the others do that was markedly better than theirs. Also it is important for the losing agency to know what was the single most important factor in the agency not winning.

  • Secrecy

Secrecy is also not appreciated, said the experts. Marketers should reveal the evaluation criteria that the agencies will be judged on. Rahim said an unnecessary level of secrecy from the advertiser such as keeping the names, number of agencies, budgets, time frames a secret is not needed.

“Reputable agencies would want to participate for advertisers who are upfront on the commercial opportunity, the initial scope of work, the pitch time frame and the reason for the account move,” he said.

  • Timing

Punwani added that providing a week or less to answer a complex pitch challenge is a no-no. At the same time, dragging the pitch process which wastes resources and money both for clients and agencies is also a no-no. A pitch process should be decided before embarking on the pitch and should be adhered to.

“It may seem like a small thing but being considerate about the timing is very important. Avoid starting pitches before Hari Raya or other holiday season where people tend to be on leave. You won’t get the best talent on your pitch team and it sends the wrong signals on how client will treat the agency should they win the business,” she added.