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Programmatic changes everything about media, including the way agencies pitch. Mark Andrews, Senior Consultant at ID Comms, explains why real-time testing will become part of the process.
Mark AndrewsMar 03, 20223 min read

Hands On Pitches

Programmatic changes everything about media, including the way agencies pitch. Mark Andrews, Senior Consultant at ID Comms, explains why real-time testing will become part of the process.



Even the best media pitches can leave questions in the ether. Will there be a gap between what’s promised and what will be delivered? Will the agency team who will work on the business match up to the image that the slick new business machine has presented?


Selecting the right media agency is critical if brands want to use media to drive business growth and pitch consultants like ourselves have traditionally sought to challenge agency capabilities in a way that ensures clients know exactly what they are getting.  


The need to test teams who might potentially actually work on the account can perform is doubly important in programmatic. Our data shows that well-run programmatic media accounts can be up to 60% more efficient/effective at driving brand goals. 


That’s a huge potential business advantage when you consider the millions of dollars going through programmatic and it’s why it’s increasingly important to accurately assess the performance of these teams as part of the pitch. 


The very near future of the media pitch is likely to incorporate some kind of live buying exercise where competing agencies are given real media budget to see what how they perform in real life.


The Hershey media pitch in the US included the first such process, designed to showcase the people with their hands-on keyboards.


The process involved a real campaign, covering responding to a brief, setup, activation, optimisation and finally reporting, all in a fully transparent environment that enabled Hershey to see each of the competing agencies’ real capabilities. It also allowed the agencies to showcase the talent in their day-to-day buying teams by allowing them to get stuck in and be client facing.


The ambition was to enable Hershey to experience interactions with the agency that were much closer to the actual working relationship they would expect to have with the winner of the pitch.


Clearly this is more complex than organising a chemistry meeting but working with the Hershey’s team we organised access to ad platforms, an ad budget as well as all the necessary legal safeguards. We also provided the agencies with details of the core KPIs they would be judged on. 


What we found was that while agencies had a similar approach to audiences and overall content strategy (sites) – pre-flight there were more similarities than differences – the real differences started to materialise post launch.


What we saw was who did the best QA checks, who realised their approach wasn't right and adapted quickly and who was trying to game the performance KPIs but disregarded ad quality standards. One of the Designated Market Areas had a power outage – so we also got a sight of how teams could adapt to obstacles.


With digital set to account for 60.9% of total worldwide ad spend in and programmatic accounting for 89.3% of digital spend in the US according to emarketer, more and more advertisers will need such visibility before they make their appointment. 


Right now, advertisers need to ask themselves three key questions to find out if live buying should be part of their next pitch: 


Are you growing your share of investment in digital media, especially programmatic? 


Typically, it’s worth doing a live-buying test if you spend more than $10m on programmatic spend (but the trigger can be lower if programmatic is a priority channel).


Have you previously experienced a disconnect between pitch perceptions and the reality of what was provided?


Do you see programmatic media buying as critical to your media success?


If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you need to consider a live buying test.


Such a real-life test provides greater visibility into agency capabilities and reveals the quality of their thinking. It enables an advertiser to start or continue a relationship trusting their new or retained partner with confidence that they can deliver what has been promised.


Trust is earned when actions match words. This is true in life, true in media and doubly true when it comes to programmatic.