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The "Seven Deadly Sins" Of Media Agency Pitches

We live in an imperfect world. It's a simple enough realization that most agency reviews miss, with far-reaching consequences.

Google the term “Media agency pitch best practices” and you’ll instantly get over 8.7 million results -- each one created to help you solve a series of issues through structure, clarity and standardization. Yet none of them sets out the main reasons why pitches fail to deliver.

So put those ivory tower best practice methodologies back in the drawer and come back to the real world. When it comes to media agency pitches, there are only seven key things that will make your pitch stand out; seven opportunities to make or break your review. The question is -- will you be a Saint or Sinner? 

Fail No. 1:  Not dealing with the past 

How you deal with the incumbent throughout the process is a key risk area that most likely will cost you big time if you get it wrong. Establishing trust early on is key...and it all starts with being upfront and honest about your motives.

Fix No. 1:  Make a brand new start 

Prepare a full exit strategy and get the data you need from the incumbent agency before you tell them. Be clear about your reasons for a pitch, including whether you want the incumbent to answer the brief -- or merely fix the cracks of the existing relationships. Agree to a transition plan and transition teams prior to appointment. 

Fail No. 2:  Underestimating the challenge 

Advertisers generally underestimate the disruption a review can cause, and it can result in unnecessary tension between various client parties (particularly in Marketing and Procurement). 

Fix No 2:  Come prepared 

Set up a pitch steering committee to help with the preparation and the decision-making process and criteria throughout review. Secure alignment on the agency model and scope of work you want to cover. Collect/use relevant data to create a business case with proper baselines and stretch targets. Identify and agree on commercial negotiation levers and walk-away positions. Manage expectations -- everything can’t be solved in Year One. In fact, strategy and operational benefits most likely kick in Year Two and Three. 

Fail No. 3:  Choosing the wrong pitch consultant

Choosing the pitch consultant on the wrong assumptions ends up doing more harm than good. Lack of integrity and impartiality is something that needs to be confronted up front.

Fix No. 3:  Choose wisely  

Always go through a due diligence, getting references from at least 3-4 similar-sized clients. Take time to meet shortlisted consultants face-to-face. Check that they have the precise skills you need in the review (too many are self-appointed experts). Never hire the pitch consultant firm who structures your review to serve their own purposes (i.e., with media auditing, service reviews, additional revenue from agencies, etc.)

Fail No. 4:  Not appreciating the politics

Client/agency relationships can run deep within an organization. The challenge is to ensure they do not stand in the way of a successful pitch outcome. 

Fix No. 4:  Form strong and early alliances 

Securing a sponsor at the very highest level in both client and agency organizations, makes everything run smoother. Brief your most senior people on them helping manage expectations and give feedback to agencies. Share top-line evaluation criteria and decision process with pitching agencies (winning or losing). 

Fail No. 5:  Not knowing who to talk to 

Talking to the wrong agency people will slow down the process and ultimately end up sending wrong messages to senior agency stakeholders. You really need to engage with agency people who can make key decisions and address problems immediately.

Fix No. 5:  Start talking to the right agency people 

Issue the brief to the holding group (including for the incumbent), and let them determine which set-up/operating agency to put forward. Having the agency new businessperson running the project makes a lot of sense, but you need involvement from agency CEO/COO for immediate decision making. Most media trading, rebates and value-adds sit above operating agencies -- high up in the agency food chain. 

Fail No. 6:  Best practice overload 

It is tempting to go by a document written by someone else, but ultimately you will be pinning your own review to the experience of a stranger, with no knowledge of your circumstances. Also, best practice (or big budgets) alone won't make you stand out. You'll need to coax out the agency&'s best people, work and value for yourself. 

Fix No. 6:  Show some personality 

Stick to getting relevant answers to the real challenges your business faces. Agencies want to work on exciting accounts, so be proactive in the process, offer feedback and encouragement. Put massive effort into every single piece of documentation and agency feedback. Be available 24/7. Getting the agencies to shine is also your responsibility. 

Fail No. 7:  Fear of the contract 

Too many clients leave it to the last moment to negotiate commercial terms. The pressure to deliver the optimum deal is always on you, not the agency. 

Fix No. 7:  Think of the pitch as a commercial opportunity 

Go in with the ambition that “everything” can be negotiated (because it can). Design an itemized negotiation strategy, with clear roles and responsibilities, timelines, key milestones, and anticipated outputs. Set up complete post-pitch reporting systems and templates. Surround yourself with people with proven commercial negotiation skills in the media space. Forget the idea of legacy pricing -- it doesn’t exist when you're pitching. 

So there you have it -- seven scenarios to prepare and positively influence your media agency review outcome. Remember, best practice may seem to reduce the risk of being a Sinner, but it will never knock your pitch out of the park or elevate you to a Saint.

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2 comments about "The "Seven Deadly Sins" Of Media Agency Pitches".
  1. James Wood from HD Productions , January 21, 2014 at 8:16 p.m.
    Great article about avoiding pitching failure with some apt solutions to each.
  2. Peter Cornelius from Kinesis Media , January 22, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.
    Why stop at 7 - there are many more. But first and foremost the most common 'sin' is not understanding why the pitch is called in the first place. So many pitches happen for the wrong reasons. Like any relationship the first step should be trying to fix/improve the existing relationship. Pitches are incredibly expensive and time consuming so if they can be avoided they should be. If there are fundamental problems the chances are that these may be replicated in a new relationship so nothing has been gained.