HOW TO CHOOSE THE AGENCY THAT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR BUSINESS.
By Gillian Rightford
During every brand’s life, there comes the point where the marketing team needs a new agency. It could be a launch, and starting from scratch. It could be that the current relationship is not working, or that the work is sub-optimal. It could be that there is a new Marketing Director or Managing Director, who has worked with someone before and thought they were better.
Whatever the reason, it may be time to consider going through a pitch process.
There are numerous ways this can be done – you can outsource completely to a pitch broker or pitch consultant, or you can run it in-house. This document outlines some of the steps you may need to run through. It’s a laborious process if done correctly – but the benefit of attracting the right partner, is priceless. If you are simply looking for best price, and you hope to follow a procurement led or tender process, this is not the process for you. This process, in my view, is for quality clients looking for quality agencies.
The IPA (Institute of Advertising Practitioners, in the UK) has the following advice to share regarding the pitch process:
Designing a clear process that is shared w
ith all the participants and adhered to without favour;
Ensuring that our ducks are in a row, that the scope is clear;
How the pitch is run, from before to after.
Their advice is to treat each agency as if they are the incumbent;
To consider paying the agencies who actually do any work to a brief.
Before we go any further let’s talk about whether it should be a “creative pitch” or not. So should creative work be part of the criteria?
A creative pitch is where the client gives the agency a brief on a specific challenge, and the agencies present strategy, creative work (big idea and multiple executions for different channels) and even sometimes channel/media plans with costings.
It’s basically a creative shoot out and I am massively opposed to it. Why? Because you are buying a relationship that will hopefully last for a long time. If you buy the creative that you like on the day.
There is a very good chance that you may land up with the wrong team. And given that 99,999976% of creative work presented in a pitch never gets produced, why would you do that
What you should be looking at is chemistry (do I like these people?), capability (how good are they?), and credentials (what have they done for other people). Sure you will get an indication of capability from a creative pitch but you can get it equally, and more robustly, in the manner detailed below
1. CONSIDER VERY CAREFULLY WHY YOU WANT TO GO TO PITCH.
> Pitches are the life-blood of new business for agencies but also place their resources under pressure. If you have no real intention to move agencies, please don’t pitch.
> Changing agencies is also disruptive to your business. If you feel that your current agency is not delivering in key areas, consider whether there is a way that this can be remedied before going to pitch. Changing people, clarifying expectations, reviewing remuneration and processes are all areas that could be investigated to get the relationship functioning optimally. Remember, agencies usually have a wealth of intellectual capital on your brand and business – this can take a while to re-establish with another agency, and your business needs don’t stand still.
2. CLARIFY YOUR SELECTION CRITERIA
> If you do want to look for a new agency, enter the process with integrity and clarity. Know exactly what it is that you are looking for. Gather your full team (including the MD/CEO) and define the criteria against which you will select an agency.
> This will include the Scope of Work – for example, will it be ATL, design, digital, collateral, social? Do you know that you require two TV ads a year and vernacular radio? Will you be running retail ads every month in various channels and require shopper marketing as well?
> Determine who will be on the decision making panel. It is essential that this team understands the criteria and will be available throughout the process for the key meetings and decisions.
> Determine also who will lead the process, and who, if anyone will have the casting vote. My suggestion is that it is the person who takes the responsibility of the agency-brand team output, probably the Marketing Director.
> Determine whether you are prepared to pay a pitch fee (only to the final shortlisted agencies). I would recommend you do – somewhere between R60,000 – R100,000 is fair, depending on the brief.
3. DRAWING UP THE LONG LIST
> Use a pitch consultant, or someone who knows the industry well, combined with your own research (contact fellow Marketing Directors of companies who’s advertising you admire, read the Awards information and publications like the annual AdFocus, go onto the agencies’ websites, follow their key people on Twitter).
> This list should ideally be no more than 8 agencies.
4. INVITE THE AGENCIES TO PITCH AND CALL FOR A REQUEST FOR INFORMATION (RFI).
> Now it needs to be established whether these agencies are actually available to handle your business – do they have capacity, are they big/small enough to meet your criteria, do they have the relevant attributes that you are looking for, do they have a competitor or another client that would not allow them to handle your business?
> These things, as well as other questions that will help you make a final short list selection, can be gleaned through a Request for Information (RFI).
> Take care not to waste people’s time with the RFI. Keep it short and make it interesting. Consider why you want the information. Agencies spend valuable time supplying reams of information about their financials, their hourly rates etc., when many of these things should only be relevant in the final phase, when they stand a much better chance of winning the business.
> Ask questions also about the intangibles that make up so much of an agency client relationship – culture, best client relationship and why, clients recently lost and why.
> In your letter of invitation, be transparent about why you are looking for a new agency, and be clear about the criteria against which you will make the selection.
> Be specific about how you want them to reply, and by when. Make sure they have enough time.
5. REVIEW THE RFI SUBMISSIONS AND SELECT A SHORTER LIST.
> Here’s where your criteria list comes in.
> Gather your decision panel and review the submissions against the criteria list.
Some agencies will naturally fall away as they won’t meet the criteria, but for some of the others it may be a harder decision.
> From the long list, you should aim to have no more than 5 agencies in this process. The fewer, the better. Quality vs. quantity.
6. COMMUNICATE TO THE SUCCESSFUL AND UNSUCCESSFUL, AND GIVE FEEDBACK.
> The industry is small and people talk, so make sure that each agency is communicated with (unsuccessful ones first).
> If they would like feedback, give it to them. Agencies like to improve their pitch success rates and if they can use your pitch to improve as a business, why wouldn’t you want to tell them? If you have valid and logical reasons not to have chosen them – measured against your criteria, and based on the RFI and the research you did – then please share that with them.
7. INVITE THE SUCCESSFUL AGENCIES TO A “CHEMISTRY SESSION”.
> A chemistry session requires your decision making panel’s time, and is what it sounds like – an opportunity for both teams to gauge the level of successful chemistry between the teams.
> It’s like a first date.
> Before the meeting, it’s a good idea to send the agencies some thought starters in terms of areas they might want to research and have an opinion on. Suggest that they stay away from PowerPoint and bring the people that would work on the business.
> Insist on meeting the client service person that might oversee or handle your account – this relationship is critical going forward.
8. EVALUATE THE CHEMISTRY SESSIONS
> Again, the full team evaluates the agencies against the criteria, and on the chemistry and capabilities displayed.
9. CHOOSE A FINAL AGENCY, OR CHOOSE THE FINAL TWO (MAX 3)
> At this stage, it may be clear whom you would like to work with already. If so, you can skip to step xx
> If not, this is when we get down to the final final step. Choose the final agencies. The short list should be no more than four, and ideally even fewer. This is in accordance with the ACA industry approved guidelines. (need to insert website link but couldn’t find it)
10. AGAIN, COMMUNICATE TO THE SUCCESSFUL AND UNSUCCESSFUL, AND GIVE FEEDBACK.
> As per the step mentioned above, give helpful feedback if you can.
11. GIVE THE FINAL AGENCIES A BRIEF FOR A TISSUE SESSION.
> Rather than invite the agencies to a creative shootout, give them a business and communication challenge that you are currently faced with, and ask them for their strategic view in a “tissue session”. What this basically means, is that you will work with both or all of the agencies, on a live brief, with the output being a ‘work in progress’ meeting. If all goes well, that meeting could well lead to the development of actual work should they win the business.
> One such way of doing it could be do ask them to suggest a possible “creative platform” that your brand could build their next campaign around. They should not develop ‘ads’, but the process should be a test not only of their strategic and creative abilities, but it was a test of how they work with you and your team in the weeks leading up to the tissue session.
> This brief should clearly outline the challenge, as well as indicate to them exactly what you will require from them, should they win the business. What is your budget? Do you require them to run your integration with other agencies? What is your timing for new work?
> Be available. Have meetings at their agency. Meet other members of their team, in areas that are important to you (production, digital, media).
> As part of the tissue session process, have a meeting with the MD to discuss their rates, your budget, their ideal staffing plan should they win the business.
12. MAKE YOUR FINAL DECISION
> At this point it should be clear.
> Again, refer back to your criteria list. Refer to how you felt working with them during the process, how they treated you, their sense of availability and capacity and of course, the excitement in the room.
> You may need to vote on it, and you may need to use that casting vote (hopefully you won’t).
13. INFORM THE SUCCESSFUL AND UNSUCCESSFUL AND PROVIDE FEEDBACK
> For the successful, it is now time to discuss rates, rules of engagement and so on. You should also prepare a press statement for the industry press. Pitches are closely watched by all, and there is a keen interest in the outcome.
14. THE CELEBRATION AND THE HOW-TO-WORK MEETINGS
> Hold a celebratory meeting at which you define the scope and Rules of Engagement.
> Get your contract sorted out.
KEY SUCCESS FACTORS:
1. An open and transparent process.
2. Allocate enough time to each step. Agencies have their hands full with paying clients. Make sure you get the best out of them by allowing them space to do it. Yes, some pitches may be urgent, but what can a marketer possibly gain by rushing this process?
3. Give detailed feedback to both successful and unsuccessful agencies.
4. Share the evaluation criteria and give feedback according to those criteria.
5. Top management involvement is key – in each and every meeting, even internal debate, from the beginning to the end.
4. Sufficient time.
5. Clear criteria.
7. Top management involvement.
Gillian’s CV is a mix of marketing, advertising, and management. She obtained a Business Science (Honours) degree in Marketing from UCT, worked for Perry & Associates (Marketing consulting), then headed into the creative world, doing account management and strategy for below and above the line agencies, before becoming Managing Director of Hercules/DMB&B/D’Arcy, and then Group Managing Director of Lowe Bull. She started Adtherapy in 2007, a company that aims to help marketers and agencies optimise their creative output, through improved skills, structure, strategy, and relationships, amongst other things. Gillian also lectures Integrated Marketing Communications at the School of Management Studies at the University of Cape Town, as well as to various advertising schools.