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4 Killer Pitch Questions
Tom DenfordNov 30, 20235 min read

Pitch Perfect: The 4 Killer Pitch Questions

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



How to guarantee you get the agency’s A-team. Every time. 

In my last column, I shared advice we give to advertisers to “pitch the agency before they pitch you” which included some suggestions on the importance of preparing a truly great brief. TL;DR it's really f-ing important… 


To truly understand how and why this works so well we must venture deep inside the mind of the agency CEO. Perhaps that’s a terrifying proposition, but don’t be scared, it will be okay. Trust me. Read on. 


Agencies are being more discerning about pitches than ever and agency CEOs are more selective about the pitches they focus their finite resources against. A poor pitch brief will end up with poor agencies competing poorly, not good. 

I’ve spent 10 years speaking regularly with agency leadership to understand their decision making, so I can distill down their typical decision process into four very easy questions. These are the 4 questions an agency CEO will ask themselves when reading your pitch brief. Right before they decide to say yes and agree to compete hard or to say no and decline your invitation outright. 

“When we get any pitch invitation we go through a Go/NoGo process as a team. Those that score low we reject. The highest scores get the most attention and focus. Its pretty simple.” - Agency CEO



Your job as an advertiser (or a pitch consultant like ID Comms) is to enable an agency CEO to answer four questions as easily as possible. The four questions only require yes/no answers and the faster the agency leadership team can get to “Yes x 4” the better for you. You’ll have a bunch of great agencies highly motivated for your pitch and ready to compete with the best talent, innovation, creativity and commercial proposal. 


Here goes…

Question #1: Do We Want to Win?

Seems simple, right? Well, this question holds the key to understanding the psychology of the agency. When agencies ponder whether they genuinely want to win a client, they're assessing more than just the potential revenue. They're looking at the client's reputation, future growth prospects, current market status, competitive conflicts, and the challenge of staffing to meet the client's needs.


For advertisers, the implication is clear: don't assume agencies will be falling over themselves to pitch for your business. Your reputation as a client matters, and agencies are selective in choosing clients aligned with their growth strategy.

Question #2: Is This Even Winnable?

Once an agency decides it wants to win a client, the next question is whether winning is feasible. That might sound daft, but we’ve heard of examples of pitches being run with no intention of actually ever changing agency. It's just a lazy way of negotiating a better deal with the incumbent agency and wastes everyone’s time. No thank you. All agency CEO’s have experienced these so-called “tire-kicking” pitches and they are very keen these days to identify if the pitch is even actually a pitch at all. 


For incumbent agencies, this question is about gauging the strength of their current relationship and the likelihood of retaining the client. Some decline to defend on this basis. 


Non-incumbent agencies need to assess if they can outshine the existing agency. 


Knowing this question prompts advertisers to articulate their pitch ambitions clearly. Is it a statutory review? What's the underlying reason and objective for the pitch process? Transparency and a compelling narrative are crucial to engaging agencies at this stage.

Question #3: Can We Win?

Next, assuming the agency sees the pitch as both desirable and winnable, the focus shifts to internal capabilities. Agencies scrutinize the pitch brief to determine if they have the necessary skills, resources, and experience. A well-defined scope of work is essential for agencies to evaluate if they can actually even meet the advertiser's needs.


For advertisers, this underscores the importance of crafting a detailed scope of work. Don’t be vague; the pitch brief needs to explicitly state what capabilities the agency must have and where. Clear communication about expectations sets the stage for agencies to confidently commit to the pitch and be able to showcase those capabilities or have a reasonable plan to assemble them if needed. 


Pitches are increasingly integrated, meaning agencies typically mobilize resources from across their organization to build the right solution. Help them do this by detailing what resources you think you need. 


“In a pitch brief, clarity is motivation.” - Agency New Business Lead


Question #4: How Do We Win?

The final question is all about strategy. Once an agency establishes it can win and has the necessary capabilities, the next step is developing a winning strategy. Advertisers can facilitate this by providing transparency on the evaluation criteria. What are the key decision-making factors, and who are the stakeholders involved? Clarity in these aspects enables agencies to align their resources strategically.


Knowing the criteria being used to asses each agency, and the weighting applied to those criteria, allows each agency to optimize their performance to those metrics. Remember, ‘What gets measured gets done’ applies to pitches, too. 

Preparing for Success

As an advertiser, engaging personally with agency leaders early on is crucial. When we are working with CMOs and procurement leaders on agency pitches, we help them inspire and seduce agencies by shaping an honest story upfront. The more you can help the agency leadership confidently accept the invite, the better the quality of response you are going to get. 



Brands Deserve Better

These approaches 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 then 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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