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Pitch Perfect
Tom DenfordNov 02, 20235 min read

Pitch Perfect: A Race to the Top in Agency Selection

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



How do discerning marketers make smarter choices in finding agency partners?


It is that time of year when many advertisers are beginning to think ahead and re-evaluate their requirements of agencies for the coming year. As both their company and their consumers change through digital transformation, the marketer must continually evolve and improve their marketing operations. 


At ID Comms, we believe pitches have evolved into lucrative value creation exercises. Below you’ll find three tips to make sure your agency pitch unlocks the success you need.



Continuous Incremental Improvement

For some advertisers, the place to start will be looking at their internal capabilities in marketing, media and advertising, and then considering how to optimize their marketing operations. Typically this is looking for workflow efficiencies, removing the bottlenecks where they lose speed and agility, streamlining briefing and communications work to avoid compromises on quality and creativity, and most importantly making sure they are working with the very best talent available. 


Marketers are in a race to the top, keen to secure the very best agency talent, organized and incentivized to work efficiently and productively as an extension of their internal teams. 



Identifying Levers for Growth

We have been pleased to see more brands adopting our MediaForGrowth™ mindset in recent years (we have a whole program you can follow on this and a free workbook you can download). They see their budgets in media and advertising as investments in brand growth, rather than a cost to be managed downwards. They see their agencies as partners in that growth, rather than seeing them as commodity suppliers.


In helping many of the world’s biggest and most ambitious brands find their perfect agencies, we’ve spent the last decade assessing agency capabilities and talent.  


It is a privilege to sit alongside a CMO as a trusted advisor as they go through the delicate process of finding the right agency team to unlock their brand’s potential, growing into new markets or grabbing chunks of market share. 



Value Creation as the Objective

The purpose of the pitch these days is different. The objective has shifted markedly from being about reducing cost (oh that’s so 2015) to being about creating value. From process to participation.


For this reason, we start every pitch process with a simple exercise we call The Three C’s to establish the priorities of the pitch process:

  • Capabilities: Can the agency do what you need?
  • Culture & Values: Can you work effectively with them?
  • Commercial Terms: Can they provide reasonable costs and terms?


The exercise asks the marketing and procurement teams to settle on a weighting of the above criteria, typically 40%, 20% 40% in the above list. While some want to upweight culture or put more focus on the commercial terms, the balance typically rests on capabilities being more important than cost. Rightly so. 

Auditors Will Focus on Cost-Cutting

Of course, pitches still garner some criticism: “too long", "too complicated”, “no feedback”, “all about costs.” When we speak with agency leaders we hear about their experiences on some pitches. Usually, these lower quality pitches are being run by media audit firms, rather than specialist consultants. 


Well, what did you expect? Auditors don't naturally set out to build you a world-class talent team or unlock exciting new ideas and creativity from agencies. They start from a zero-sum game to get more for less, even if they know that a race to the bottom on cost will inevitably damage the quality and value of the people, effort and eventually ideas. 


For a while longer, advertising will remain largely a people business built on trust, inspiration and ideas. Relationships are therefore key. Designing a pitch process that encourages collaboration and builds trust from day one is paramount. 

Perfecting the Pitch

Over the years we have pioneered improvements in the agency pitch, and (thanks to our ambitious clients) added new methods of evaluating agencies in important areas like diversity, sustainability and business ethics. 


ID comms has pioneered the pitch process since our founding in 2009, dedicated to some key principles which remain common to all our work in building great agency relationships:


  • Listen carefully and challenge your brief. A process needs to be carefully customized to your requirements, with special care over the quality of communications internally and externally to participating agencies
  • Get agencies on their A-game. You start a pitch by ‘pitching’ to the agency (not the other way around) to give them a clear idea of your objectives, brand ambitions and the shared opportunities ahead. How you present yourself tells the agency your culture and values, important ingredients for the chemistry of success, and will motivate the agency’s best talent. 
  • Great feedback is great practice. Good communication creates a flywheel in a pitch, building trust and positivity. Ensuring that all participating agencies have access to information, get clear guidance and regular feedback is critical in our experience. Take the time to debrief all agencies so they know why they won or why they lost. Allow them to see the gaps, they will appreciate it. For more advice on this read my recent column  “I wish all pitches were run like this” (which was a quote we received from a losing creative agency).


These three rules form the bedrock of a value-creating agency pitch. It’s why many ambitious brands like Uber, T-Mobile, LVMH, Meta and more trust ID Comms to help them unlock amazing media and creative agency relationships based on partnership, value creation and growth. 


Brands deserve better from pitches. When pitches focus on value creation, the advertiser and the agency see themselves together as partners in growth. The respective teams can quickly build trust and start doing great work, inspiring everyone to succeed. 


When brands get the partners they deserve they flourish. 


When brands grow, we all win!





This post was featured in ID Comms’ weekly column, Brands Deserve Better Media. Each week, CEO Tom Denford shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.

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