Want A Better Agency Relationship? Run A Better Pitch Process

You may or may not have caught Toby Jenner’s (COO of Mediacom) recent blog post that addressed an important topic. I couldn’t agree more with his point of view.  He wrote, “When a brand treats agencies as true partners during the pitch process, it has a huge benefit.”  

It sure does, Toby.  An agency search is not justification for clients demanding that agencies jump through unrealistic hoops.  Asking for client rights to spec creative in the pitch, bios of the actual top-down agency team as part of the RFI, or deadlines around holidays are just a few of the myriad of inappropriate requests I’ve seen   They’re red flags to pass in an unacceptable search process.

So what is a better pitch process?  A loaded question for sure, but here are some key factors that set up for a great search that will ultimately lead to a successful client-agency relationship:



Both parties need to share! Be transparent and communicative, by sharing insights, strategies, and business goals.  No one can make comprehensive decisions with little information.  This is not the time to hold back and be territorial.  

One of the more successful reviews I’ve seen was one where the client shared all marketing objectives and challenges, growth strategies, consumer personas, behavioral patterns, DMA insights and more right out of the gate in the RFI.  This allowed the agencies to make exhaustive decisions as to whether or not they should participate in the search.  

And it didn’t stop there.  As the search progressed, the client shared loads of research materials, consumer insights, purchase motivation insights, talent recruitment materials and more.  It set up for a transparent and forthcoming client-agency relationship (which is doing very well 12 months later).

Be realistic about deadlines.  People have lives, too, and if either team sets due dates around holidays, that is a sure sign of disrespect.

As for the never-ending review processes where team members are changing companies during the process? That’s an indication that there will be too many layers, procedures and lots of lag time when trying to complete projects. 

Quite frankly, neither side has time for inefficient, drawn-out reviews, which impact business operations and affect ROI.  If a comprehensive review can’t be completed within a few months or less, let it go.  I often hear about reviews that are ongoing for six or more months -- and as a result, committee members are unclear of the process and worse, the purpose of the review, because the momentum is lost. 

Don’t ask for the milk without buying the cow. Expecting to have ownership of spec creative as part of a pitch process is completely unwarranted, and offering a stipend in exchange for the work is just as inappropriate.  

I recently managed a review for an online company where the marketer was gracious and thoughtful enough to offer each participating agency $10,000 to help offset some of the pitch costs but not own any of the creative concepts that were presented.  He was so impressed with the search process, level of agency thinking and work that he felt it was the proper thing to do -- and he was right.  It also set up for an equitable client-agency relationship.

How do some client-agency relationships endure for years past the industry average? The answer is simple: successful, enduring partnerships are built on a team of people who consider themselves friends, all contributing to a successful business partnership.  And that friendship starts by running a proper pitch process.

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