Kate Howe asks: Do pitches really give agencies the best chance to succeed? Part 2

In the second of three articles, Kate Howe, Executive Director of MSQ, the organiser of Procurefest, discusses the big challenges and opportunities facing marketing procurement, as well as the wider agency and marketing sector.

Understanding Clients

“While we can’t know everything about a brand we’ve just met as intimately as the brand we’ve worked with for a decade, we can be given a head start if the client holding the pitch can open up and share enough of its business challenge”

As I alluded to in my first Procurefest article, the pitch sits at the very heart of our industry. It’s a chance for us all to show ourselves at our very best. 

But despite it being such a fundamental fixture, no-one really goes into a year expecting a pitch. Marketers are encouraged to see them as a last resort, whilst agencies don’t have people sitting around waiting to work on them, it’s an extension of the day job. 

So when the time comes, it’s important and respectful to all parties to make the pitch process as efficient as it possibly can be. 

Which, of course, they rarely are. Things are improving – the Pitch Positive Pledge is a step in the right direction and the IPA offers some good guardrails to run a pitch by. 

But we’re really only scratching the surface. Continuous conversations about potential improvements are vital – to share ideas, best practice and watch outs. 

That’s why we held an MSQ Procurefest session last month on ‘The Future of the Pitch’ – a roundtable discussion in which procurement leaders, marketers and agency representatives joined forces to compare learnings. 

And one thing that really struck me from our conversation was the desire to shape the pitch process in a way that allows agencies to truly focus on the brief at hand, rather than jumping through unnecessary hoops or answering questions that needn’t be asked. 

That could be from a monetary point of view – if agencies aren’t given a steer on the budget (still, sadly, a debate in the industry), the ideas you’ll end up with can range dramatically, with very little chance of them ever seeing the light of day. So far, so inefficient. 

But where I really think we see inefficiencies is in the initial insights phase. If I could fault any of the briefs I’ve seen in the past year, it’s that there’s simply not enough information in them. 

What agencies end up doing is spending the first two weeks of a four-week process really trying to get under the skin of the brief, understanding what the business problem is and what’s holding the brand back. 

Of course, if you have four agencies on the shortlist, then really you have four agencies spending time digging into insights, digging into research, trying to find certain truths about you and your customers. All of them will find largely the same things, and those insights will probably be things you already know. 

Can you do that work for them? I’ve long been an advocate of more time – and even money – being spent on getting the brief right up front. Commission a piece of research, go through an insights process, actually think about what agencies have to do to approach the brief, what they’ll need to know to solve the problems, and get some of that thinking into the brief in the first place.

Otherwise, you have these brilliantly creative minds all wasting a large chunk of your precious pitch time and their precious resource getting off the starting blocks to largely the same place.

And then, once they’ve done that, they have a much shorter period of time than they could have to try and work out the solution. 

It’s what your pitching agencies do with those insights, how much further they’re able to take them, that’ll end up being the differentiator in the final presentation. 

It’s a fact that existing clients get better thinking because agencies get to know them better, get to understand their challenges and how they’re set up to tackle them. While we can’t know everything about a brand we’ve just met as intimately as the brand we’ve worked with for a decade, we can be given a head start if the client holding the pitch can open up and share enough of its business challenge.  

I said during the Procurefest session that no brand should ever underestimate the value that an agency can add. And I stand by that. But to get the very best value, those agencies need to be engaged in the conversation correctly. 

Kate Howe is the Executive Director of MSQ

This article first appeared on Producers & Procurers iQ here.