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Tom DenfordNov 16, 20235 min read

Pitch Perfect: Inspiring the Best Agencies to Compete

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford


How to make your pitch a priority for the best agencies, according to Muhammad Ali.

Following last week’s column, The Feedback Flywheel, where I discussed the importance and value of strong communication through the pitch process, I received a question from an advertiser currently considering a pitch: 


“You say agencies are being more selective about taking part in pitches, so how can we be confident that the top agencies won't turn down our pitch?”


Good question. Glad you asked. 



You pitch the agency before they pitch you

The advertiser has to take the pitch seriously. It's not a pony show (although, has anyone ever actually been to a pony show? Sounds kinda fun).


In the fast-moving world of marketing and advertising, the process of selecting the right agency for your brand's media and creative needs has become a critical aspect of success. You have to start strong by presenting your brand challenges, your culture and your ambition very clearly to participating agencies so they can consider it fully. What will make the best agencies vie for your pitch depends a lot on how you manage that initial approach. 


“Getting an email that says, ‘Dear Supplier…’ is a reg flag for me that this pitch is not about building an important relationship. I’d only pitch that brand if there’s nothing else going on, otherwise no.” - Agency CEO



Diamonds are created under great pressure

Why do we care so much about getting the best agencies engaged and motivated for your pitch? Because the better they are and the more motivated they are to win, the greater the competitive tension. Consider that world records are not broken on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the track. New records come from the intense pressure of the Olympic Games, where the very best compete for glory by being the best they can be. Same with pitches, just less spandex. 


Alongside this, the marketer has more agency choices than ever before and will often be considering the holding company agencies alongside great independent and specialist agencies. Agency rosters are far more dynamic and agile than they were; all agencies are competing with many other types of agencies these days. The pressure to win a great pitch makes it a tough exercise. In these conditions, we see the very best talent, creativity, ideas, technology and commercial terms. 



Three top tips for better agency engagement in a pitch 

Here are three essential tips for advertisers to consider when it comes to making the best agencies eager to compete for their business:


1 - Engage agency leadership early.

Agency CEOs and new business leads will make quick, subjective decisions about incoming pitch opportunities, so establishing early connections with agency leadership is key. Don’t send a crappy email expecting agencies to be falling over themselves to sign-up. 


Start strong. Make the invitation clear, offer immediate top-level meetings if needed so that you can communicate your vision and ambitions for media, creating a platform for mutual understanding and alignment from the outset. Once an agency has made a decision, it is unlikely to change its stance, so you have one chance to present the opportunity.


A couple of years ago a large travel advertiser came to ID Comms because they were running a pitch themselves and all but one agency had dropped out (even their incumbent!). We paused the process, rewrote the brief, talked directly to a few agency CEOs and then ran a strong, energized process with four great agencies competing. Happy client. 


2 - Invest time in a high-quality pitch brief.

A well-crafted pitch brief not only communicates the advertiser's needs but also showcases a commitment to media. The effort invested in creating a comprehensive and strategic pitch brief can signal to agencies that the advertiser is serious and values the potential partnership. If you set off with a high-quality brief (in both content and production value) then you set a high bar for the agency responses and you’ll find a better-quality proposal coming your way as a result. 


3 - Get aligned as a team.

Agencies can quickly sniff out if there is any tension or misalignment across your team, whether that’s across company divisions, regions or across practices such as marketing and procurement. Take a moment to get internal agreement upfront on the marketing objectives, and procurement process.


“I’m looking for alignment, clarity and quality in a pitch brief to decide if we go for it or not. If the client is not clear or if the documents they send are trash then we pass” - Agency CEO


We manage a workshop in pitch preparation to define the desired agency operating model, principles of the process and outcome objectives. We want to get you all aligned before we start the pitch process.


To paraphrase that well-known agency pitch expert Muhammad Ali, “The fight is won in the gym, long before I dance under those lights.”  



Bonus tip! Hire a pitch consultant.

Perhaps not surprising, but it is definitely worth considering, and here's why. A good pitch consultant adds value (and ROI) by efficiently taking over all the heavy lifting of a pitch process, saving your team time and avoiding day to day distraction.


Plus you get the huge benefit of objectivity. They challenge you to be better and bring deep experience of industry best practices and learning from other large marketing organizations.


A consultant is also a reliable guardian of a fair and transparent pitch process.


Lastly, having a reputable consultant (such as ID Comms) associated with the pitch can elevate the credibility of the pitch amongst agency leadership who know and trust our approach, getting you better agencies involved and competing even harder to win your trust. 



Brands Deserve Better

If you're looking for more, our free guide to Running an Agency Pitch is a collection of our proven best practices in pitch preparation and management. These processes have helped brands like Uber, T-Mobile, LVMH, Meta and more find the best agency partners and, ultimately, see lasting growth from their media investment.


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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