According to the latest study by ID Comms in partnership with the 4A’s released last week, U.S. advertisers are failing to get the most value from media pitches because of flawed processes and lack of communication. The study reminds me of a blog post that Toby Jenner (COO of Mediacom) released in September where he stated, “Want a better relationship? Run a better pitch process.” And as an agency search consultant for almost two decades at AAR Partners, I couldn’t agree more.
An agency search is not justification for client demanding that agencies jump through unnecessary hoops by demanding spec work for zero compensation, requesting video submissions or expecting detailed fees and staffing plans as part of an RFI. These and other unrealistic demands are nothing more than red flags for agencies to run the other way when these “not-so-good” opportunities cross their desks.
As for the recent study, a key flaw revealed is that clients are often unclear about what they are looking for from their media agency (and I’ll add to this by saying any agency – not just media). And they tend to remain vague throughout the pitch process, even when pressed for details.
What the study doesn’t state is that there are a handful of agency search consultancies, including AAR Partners, that work very hard to ensure that the process is organized, detail-oriented, transparent, communicative and focused on coaching both the client and the agencies involved in the process for the greater purpose of forging a solid client-agency partnership that outlasts the industry average. And clarity from start to finish is key! Simply stated by the behavioral scientist, Steve Maraboli, “A lack of clarity could put the brakes on any journey to success.”
What should agencies do to help fix a flawed pitch process if there is no search consultant managing a proper search?
There are many questions to keep in mind for sure, but here are some key factors to flip a flawed process that will ultimately lead to a successful client-agency partnership:
RFI – Request FURTHER Information
If the RFI from the client is vague but you’re interested in working on the brand then stop guessing and start gathering. Turn it around and develop a direct but concise list of questions that requests FURTHER information from the client. Ask them some key questions such as:
- What are your key marcom goals and objectives within the next 12 months?
- What are the major business issues that you currently face?
- What is the one primary problem that keeps you up at night?
- Describe a successful client-agency relationship?
Decide If the Brand Is a Good Fit For Your Agency
Start probing for information to understand the brand’s business and communications challenges that will help you pinpoint an ideal client by asking yourself:
- Is this client a good match for our experience?
- Is this client a good match for our culture?
- Is this client a good match for how we want to grow?
Chemistry Isn’t Canned
What exactly is a chemistry meeting? No one can create chemistry. It either happens naturally when doing something with someone or it doesn’t. If you’re required to have a chemistry meeting and the client cannot offer a clear agenda, then write one out prior to the meeting and get it approved. Go one step further, I write out a handful of questions for the client to think about prior to them coming to your meeting. This will help the client team to be focused and not only know what to expect for your meeting, but also prepare them to have a more interactive session with you. After all, it’s about chemistry right? The more interactive, the better you and they can gauge and evaluate cultural compatibility.
Take Time to Think
There is some benefit to moving the agency search process along at a fair pace not to lose momentum and of course, to get the new agency on board sooner than later for the client. But there is something to be said for time as a necessary ingredient for success. It takes time to go through iterations of work and think about comprehensive solutions. Ideas don’t just pop up out of nowhere. Research, conversation, interaction, clear direction, feedback are all necessary in order to craft solid solutions for the brand’s business issues. And it takes time to get there.
Request that you have a final check-in meeting to allow the client to preview the work being developed prior to the final pitch. Allow them to comment on the direction(s) and course-correct so they feel ownership over the final work being presented at the final pitch.
Finally, there is no other industry that gives away intellectual property in order to “get the business” and it needs to come to a screeching halt in the communications sector. Crafting a solid strategy with deep insights is a necessary part of any search process but when it comes to creative, do not agree to produce spec work. Broad stroke creative concepts are far enough and you can bring it to life by showing previous, relevant client work. But all of this starts with a pitch process that is run well with clear direction, specific evaluation points, and known needs. If the pitch isn’t going to be structured and it feels very wishy-washy it’s only an indication of what the client-agency partnership will be like… relationship discord leading to short-termed tenures.