One of the many interesting aspects of my professional life is that I have participated and continue to participate in lots of agency pitches. I have seen pitches on all continents in over 40 countries. I have been in B2B and B2C pitches, and I can now add pitching during a pandemic to my list of experiences.
It’s true that a pitch is a highly disruptive process. If you do it right, you will allocate a significant amount of time and senior resources to the process. You will think through all aspects of what you’ll need going forward, and where you will want to draw the line between your responsibilities and the agency’s responsibilities.
You will think through things like outsourcing, inhousing, scoping, pay for performance, new service areas you anticipate are going to be important, etc. You will think about data ownership, martech requirements, creative leadership, chemistry criteria and more.
And then you create a detailed, transparent and inspiring briefing that hopefully will entice your prospective agency partners to say: “Sure, I will throw a bunch of agency resources at this free of charge because I see opportunity.” You will give them enough time and access to your leadership to create awesomeness. And then you will go through a few rounds of agonizing negotiations to get the deal just right -- and, presto! You’ve got yourself a new agency!
All that still holds true during these turbulent times, but there are of course some new elements that are part of the process for the foreseeable future.
First of all, you will probably notice a footnote on every slide stating that all future-facing insights, strategies, plans and org structures may be out the window if the pandemic throws another surprise at us. So the proposal from the prospective agency holds true on the day of presenting, but may be null and void the next day.
Not to worry, this is probably also true for your own plans. Agility is the key, and that's something you want to explore with your prospective agencies. Most agencies now have about six months of pandemic experience. Ask them how they have managed flying by the seat of their current clients’ pants. It will be instructive to assess if they will be able to flex for you as well.
Secondly, determining which partner is a good fit and match with your company and office culture is now even harder. Under normal circumstances, you will be able to visit agencies on their turf and get a sense of their mores and vibe. You will perhaps meet them two or three times including the final presentation, and that way you will experience being in one room with them. If all that feels good (and you absolutely need to create a scorecard with “soft” criteria for this), you’re good to go.
But today you can’t visit or sit in one room together. So how do you “date” via Microsoft Teams or Zoom? I’d say the same way, but I would recommend increasing the number of interactions to ensure facetime and interactions between their and your key staff members. And even once you have made your agency selection, I would still recommend “interviewing” the three or four key agency staff members they propose to work with you on a daily basis.
See? You can still successfully pitch during a pandemic.*
*Disclaimer: none of the above might hold true tomorrow.