Wave goodbye to “Mad Men” handshakes and gut feel appointments – it’s time to pitch smarter: Part 3

In the last 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.

“A lot of pitch processes still come from the Mad Men era, where TV advertising was king, there was little measurement and things were done on a handshake in an old boy’s club.” 

It’s hard not to agree with Kyrsten Halley, Brand Creator at food giant Samworth Brothers, when discussing at our recent Procurefest session how brands and agencies can pitch smarter.

The webinar saw marketers, agencies, pitch consultants and, crucially, marketing procurement, come together to identify the challenges faced by each stakeholder in the pitch process. 

Because the pitch process can still feel antiquated in places. Yet the way decisions must be made has moved on.

“The times are gone where people could say ‘because they did a brilliant presentation’ or ‘we just really liked them’ or ‘they’ve got fab offices’,” Kyrsten explained. “That does not cut it anymore. How do you show that the people and talent that you’ve bought into – and that’s what agencies are, the managers of brilliant creative people and problem solvers – will translate into a return on your investment?”

For me this is where marketing procurement can really come into their own and take control of the process. There’s a lot of psychological comfort in pitching. If things weren’t working before, then let’s ditch the previous agency and go and meet those shiny new ones over there.

And maybe they will bring an improvement. But as a marketing department, you’ve got to go back to the business and articulate why you’re making such a call. Which is why marketing procurement can help build and communicate strict criteria and construct a set of proof points to give your argument the best chance to succeed. 

How to do that? The panel had some ideas. 

First, Ali Aylward, Marketing Category Buyer at Suntory said, you have to realise that every pitch is different. Don’t just lay down a one-size-fits-all process. “When I meet with a stakeholder, I want to know exactly what success looks like for them, and from that I can build a clear project plan, decide who needs to be involved, how we’re going to brief etc. That could be very different depending on so many requirements.”  

And once you have those in place, Ali continued, it’s important that the project plan and criteria gets communicated across the board: “Some procurement teams aren’t transparent enough. They’re not sharing the evaluation criteria, so agencies are going in blind. Then they receive feedback that comes as a surprise to them, because they learn too late that procurement are judging objectives in a completely different way to what they see is the answer. Agencies need to know what the senior marketing teams are looking for, so they can respond appropriately.” 

A more disciplined approach was welcomed by our marketing representative Kyrsten, too. And she suggested that this philosophy should run throughout the process. 

“In what is now an incredibly measurable industry, how can we use new techniques to our advantage in the pitch process to set up strong partner relationships from the off?” she asked. “For lower-level budgets, can you test? Can you say, ‘actually we picked the agency whose pitch work drove a 25% engagement rate versus the one that drove 18%?’ To your CEO and CFO, that’s far more compelling, and can create much longer form trust in the agency that you’re picking.” 

Taking the C-Suite on the journey is never a bad thing. The pushback you may get from the testing suggestion, of course, is that it could elongate the pitch process further still. At a time when some agencies are calling for it to be shortened – even ending after the chemistry stage, some suggest. 

It’s fair to say that the panel were more than a little uncomfortable with this ‘appoint after chemistry’ idea. “You’re buying people and talent,” Suntory’s Ali reminded the group, so you need to spend the appropriate time with those pitching to justify your choice. “That means we need to have chemistry sessions to understand if our cultures are aligned, and we need the final pitch to see if the creativity and performance standards are high enough.”

I thought of this advice when speaking after the event to one of our guests, Ferrero’s Marketing Category Manager Simone Borghetto. Simone too stressed the importance of tightening the pitch process, and that starts with getting the shortlist right in the first place. 

“Don’t waste people’s time,” Simone responded when I asked him for the most important advice for anyone running a pitch. “I’m a big believer in pitching with as few agencies as possible. You need to spend real time with each prospective supplier. To me, even with four agencies it starts to get complicated. For smaller budgets, I’d ideally like to only run with two agencies; for larger pitches I’d go with three. Working in parallel with lots of agencies is very stressful and not helpful – it’s mad that some businesses pitch with seven agencies!” 

From an agency perspective, it’s certainly more affirming knowing that procurement have been meticulous up front, picked agencies suitable for the task and given us clear indicators as to what they then expect from us. And if the process is collaborative, then whether we’re appointed or not, we can be sure that no stone was left unturned. We didn’t waste precious time and resources, someone else just did a better job. 

That, I think, is all you can really ask. To not have your time wasted. To conclude a theme that’s run throughout this series of articles on pitching, it’s important for everyone to go into a pitch process with respect. To be open and honest throughout, and to do all you can to give every stakeholder – be that the procurement team, marketers or agencies – the very best chance to succeed. 

Kate Howe is the Executive Director of MSQ

This article first appeared on Producers & Procurers iQ here.