#PitchHell: Combatting The Stress Of New Business Pitching

Posted by Ray Kieser, Agency Practice Director on December 16, 2015

Combatting the stress of new business pitching

New business pitching is arguably the most disliked necessity within a creative agency. A significant amount of time and money is invested into a pitch that requires agency teams to battle against each other with no guarantee of a positive result. You wouldn’t expect such an intensive process with your hairdresser, dentist or accountant, so why expect it with your creative agency? And more importantly, why are agencies so willing to accept this business model?

At a recent BIMA breakfast where the topic of conversation centred on how to maximise profitability without compromising creativity, the discussion turned to new business pitching and the stress it places on agencies. There was a general consensus that there is an education gap with clients not having a clear understanding around what it takes for agencies to respond to a pitch – from both a budget and resources perspective.

It was also noted that the current lifecycle of a client relationship is 18 months which is extremely short considering the timeframe required to enact change or create a campaign to shift consumer mind-sets. Following this 18 months, agencies are often placed under threat of a pitch, or at least a significant change. This creates undue stress and in some cases, the pitches and process of on-boarding a new client cost the agency the first year of profit and more. All of which almost certainly means brands are not going to experience the results they are after.

But when it comes down to it, who is responsible for a client’s ‘behind the scenes’ education process? Attendees at the breakfast universally agreed it was the responsibility of the agency and shared ideas for combatting pitch hell.

Historically, new business pitching has been based on chemistry meetings and credentials. Nowadays agencies are required to provide not only credentials, but also ideas and strategy alongside proof of execution. To try and avoid the pitch process while still showcasing an understanding of the business – perhaps more than could ever be displayed during a traditional pitch process – some creative agencies are offering workshop sessions. These sessions allow the potential client insight into how the agency works and how much it understands of the business – not just judging the team based on a pure reaction to the brief.

It should also work both ways though – creative agencies should be evaluating potential clients as much as they are being evaluated. Chris Merrington of Spring 1820 and Simon Myers of prophet noted that it is important for bigger agencies to be choosey about who they go after in order to avoid that “whiff of desperation”. Both also note that it is important to ask potential clients why they selected the agency to pitch – if it was a referral then that’s great but if it was based on a league table or because they heard the agency was cheap then that might raise a few red flags.

However, it’s important to be realistic and the agency who is too choosey or shuns all pitches in favour of pushing back will not last long. In some cases, the best decisions from both a financial and reputational perspective is to progress with the pitch process, and for these situations it is important the agency is running effectively and efficiently so teams can throw everything they have towards winning the pitch – without going under or sacrificing other client accounts.

In this instance, one way creative agencies can get on top of new business pitching is to implement an agency management system. A solution of this nature will enable agency heads to proactively manage existing client relationships while simultaneously tracking upcoming opportunities and clearly understanding the profitability, or over-service implications, of all new work. It will also afford the team better insight into the resources available within the agency – tracking work in progress, assigning resources, providing continuous, real-time updates and comprehensively managing spend. Having this information at your fingertips means that when new business opportunities come in, it is easy to access viability and capacities, allocating resources and identifying an effective pitch team.

The concept of pitching for new business has never been simple and now having to educate clients on the true level of investment provides an extra complication. However, it is positive to see some creative agencies acknowledging the pitch process is becoming unsustainable and standing up for themselves. This attitude shift, combined with an effective agency management system provides a foundation for assessing when to push back on a pitch that is just not feasible, giving creative agencies a choice in how to respond – ultimately setting them up with the best chance possible to grow their business.

To continue the conversation you can leave a comment on this blog or head over to Twitter and have your say using #AgencyPitchHell