Is it to time to find an alternative to pitching?

We’ve spoken before about the Pitch Mangle – our system of working out whether a job is worth pitching for. If a pitch meets at least 3 of our 6 criteria, then chances are we will pitch. If it doesn’t, then we will walk away. And while that might sound a bit extreme, it isn’t. The reality is pitching takes up an inordinate amount of time, expects you to deliver top-end strategic work all without really getting to know the client and 9 times out of 10 you’re expected to do all of this for free.

But it’s not just agencies who end up short-changed. Pitching also costs clients time and money and there is the very real risk that what they see in the pitch will bear no resemblance to the reality of working with that agency.

It’s not surprising then that some agencies refuse to pitch, believing their portfolio of work should be evidence enough of their capability and creativity as an agency.

So, does this mean we need to find an alternative to pitching? We take a look at its drawbacks; the times pitching can be useful and a possible alternative solution.

Working in isolation never produces the best work

‘We don’t just work for our clients; we work with them’.

That’s pretty much the ethos of our whole agency. As well as always putting in the time and effort to understand what the client expects, we ensure we always get insight from all the key stakeholders before we come up with any creative. After all, it’s impossible to produce the money shot if you aren’t on the same page as the client.

So, pitching feels somewhat illogical. We never work in isolation, so while a pitch process is a great test of how we understand and interpret a brief, it’s not a great test of how great we actually can be. And talking about briefs…

Not all briefs are equal

If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. Creative is only good if the brief is good.  Why do you think our briefing workshops are so popular?!

Too often companies think if they make a brief suitably broad with lots of room for manoeuvre then it will give creatives the opportunity to come up with their best work. It doesn’t. Briefs that are too wishy-washy will only result in work that either doesn’t meet the brand’s expectations or misses the mark completely.

But the problem with writing a proper brief, one that is clear, concise and gives creatives everything they need to deliver great work is that it takes time. And, unsurprisingly, many companies don’t have time to spend on something that is just for a pitch. But if you don’t spend time on the brief, there is a real risk you’ll end up with an agency you’re not entirely happy with.

The wrong people are involved

And then we need to consider the people who actually turn up for the pitch meeting. There is a tendency for some larger creative agencies to roll out the big guns for the pitch. That’s fine, but once the work is in the bag, they fade into the background never to be seen again. And is there anything worse than realising the person you really hit it off with won’t actually be working on your account? A pitch shouldn’t just be about presenting your work, but also building up a relationship with your future creative team. It’s why with us, who you see is who you get!

But clients are also guilty of involving the wrong people in the pitch process.  While it might seem important to get as many views as possible on what could be a monumental decision for the company, in most cases less is more. More people, means more views and more time to make decisions (not to mention more time out of the business day).

Everyone at that meeting should add some kind of value, so if they don’t understand marketing, creative or design, should they really be there?

Which brings us onto the sticky issue of procurement. While they do have an important role to play, they do tend to focus on the numbers and no agency should be chosen on budget alone.  In fact, you could argue that should be the last consideration. The value an agency brings in terms of experience, sector knowledge and skillset is far more important if you really want the best quality work.   

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

How many times have you seen a film trailer, thought you must go and see that film only to be disappointed as the trailer shared all the best bits? The biggest problem with a pitch is that it can just be a glorified trailer for the agency.

From seeing ‘the best’ people but ending up with an intern working on your account, to seeing amazing creative but ending up with something that is just so-so, a pitch can end up being nothing more than a fantasy.

And that’s before we even discuss the budget. Budgeting accurately at this stage can be problematic, as chances are the company won’t be 100% sure what they want, so it’s really a best-guess scenario which is never great for anyone.

So, is a pitch ever worthwhile?

While we might sound like we are anti-pitch, we actually think pitching offers a number of benefits. Firstly, the buzz they create. After all what’s more exciting than everyone working together on something, that if won, could be great for the agency, while at the same time having your work pitted against some worthy competitors. Nothing like a bit of competition to get the creative juices flowing. And that feeling when the pitch is won – there is nothing to match it!

Secondly, pitches are really useful for hiring a new creative agency, one a client knows nothing about. They will help give a valuable insight into how they work, whether they can hit deadlines and the type of creative they produce. Just remember to ask them these questions to ensure they are the right fit.

And thirdly, even when pitches aren’t successful, they can be a useful learning tool.  Sometimes it takes an outsider to spot that an agency could be better at a specific skill or are lacking in knowledge about a particular area. So, if your pitch is unsuccessful, always ask for feedback. It might just mean you are successful next time.   

An alternative to pitching

We’ve done a lot of pitching over the years, which is one of the reasons we came up with the Pitch Mangle, as it allows us to focus on pitches where we can add real value to the client.

But we would argue there is an alternative to pitching which would not only save everyone both time and money, but also ensure you get the right agency for the job.

So, once you have identified a shortlist of agencies you think would be good for your project, have an initial conversation with them to see whether they could be a good fit. Then have a face-to-face meeting with the ones that impressed you to talk through the brief for the work, remembering to ask these key questions!

And don’t call it a pitch, call it a ‘chemistry meeting’, as what you are doing is looking for a partner, who won’t work for you, but with you. That way you won’t just get a great agency onboard, but also the best creative possible.

And if you really must ask agencies to pitch, don’t ask 10 agencies to take part, just ask 3 or 4. Pitching should always give people a fair chance of winning, so asking more lowers the odds considerably and risks wasting everyone’s time and resources.

If you would like to set up a ‘chemistry meeting’ with us, then get in touch. We would love to find out a bit more about your creative needs and tell you a bit more about how we work.