In Defense of “The Pitch”

Author: Chris Copacino

Agency leaders frequently express frustration with the search and pitch procedures, and the phrase "ditch the pitch” is becoming oft repeated inside agency walls. And in industry news.

It’s not perfect, but agencies still need reviews, and we need the pitch process to bring in opportunities that agencies wouldn't have access to if brand leaders simply selected agencies they were familiar with. But along with feeding the new business pipeline, the pitch process allows agencies to evaluate their competitiveness, differentiation, and the strength of their capabilities and work compared to other agencies. And pitches offer agencies the opportunity to reveal their true identity to brand leaders.

So, if the pitch is here to stay, what can brand leaders do to make better for agency and clients alike?

  1. Be open and transparent.  Clearly define measurable objectives, outline the scope of work, and share budget details across media, production, and fees. More information from marketers allows agencies to respond effectively.
  2. Be accessible.  The working relationship is crucial and can only be vetted through real interaction. Brand leaders should be available for a Q&A early in the search process, as well as a working session if there is a pitch assignment. It goes a long way in getting a real feel for how it would be to work together.
  3. Provide clear feedback. The way that agencies respond to feedback—especially during the process—can tell you a lot about how they respond to input and constructive criticism. Like the best employees, agencies are always trying to grow and improve. For agencies that don’t win, telling them exactly why they fell short is incredibly valuable for growth.
  4. Pay for pitch creative work. Yes, we know agencies have been saying this for years. This isn’t solely to offset an agency’s investment though. Compensating agencies for creative work allows clients to own the work in case they see something they love from an agency they don’t choose. However, clients should make it clear the compensation conveys ownership of ideas and IP.

Now, if you’re a client who doesn’t love conducting a pitch, consider a couple alternatives:

  1. Try before you buy.  Assigning projects to agencies you’re interested in allows you to gauge their capabilities, creativity, and compatibility beyond a 90-minute presentation.
  2.  Work with two agencies at once.  Clients can transparently work with two agencies simultaneously, compensating both for their efforts. We had a prospect who paid us and another finalist a stipend to work as their day-to-day agency for three months. And it was very much like a real agency-client relationship. So instead of judging which agency pitched best, they judged us on our process, people and work product (We won and became their AOR, so maybe we’re a bit biased to this approach).

Agencies still rely on the pitch process and eliminating it entirely would harm their future prospects. However, it can be enhanced and improved to benefit all parties involved and foster real, genuine, symbiotic partnerships. Which in our opinion, are the very best kind.