4A’s On Advertising Agency Pitching

Some Sage Words From The 4A’s On Advertising Agency Pitching

download 4a'sHere is an interview on advertising agency pitching I did with Tom Finneran, EVP, Agency Management Services at the 4A’s. It’s one of many expert interviews in my book on advertising agency pitching. It comes from the perspective of the 4A’s, its work with hundreds of agencies and with the ANA – the Association of National Advertisers.

By the way, go ahead and buy the book (you can do so easily at the top of this page) and… I guarantee you will win more advertising agency pitches.

I thought I’d add this interview to my blog for a few reasons. Some to help you and one big one for me.

  • Your agency’s pitch batting average will increase if you have a solid, smart, consistent pitch system.
  • You will win more pitches if you put yourself in the client’s shoes.
  • You should be aware of the 4A’s and ANA agency search guidelines. If fact, share this with the clients you pitch. Here’s a link to an Ad Age article on the guidelines.
  • You’ll help me because I want you to buy the book. It’s not because I make a lot of bucks from sales (although sales are robust and it is nice to get money from Amazon.) No, I want you to buy the book because many agencies that read the book, see that I actually know what I am talking about, and turn into my consultancy’s business development clients. Duh coming: Books help make people and even agencies look and sound like experts.

On To The 4A’s Interview That Will Help You Win More Pitches

Warning. This is a long interview. Long as in over 3,000 words. Read it if you want to win more new business.

Tom Finneran: EVP, Agency Management Services – The 4A’s

Tom Finneran leads the 4A’s Agency Management Services team, which provides industry guidance, member consultation, and benchmark information in the areas of new business, agency compensation, agency management, and operations.

Tom’s career includes extensive ad agency and advertiser financial management experience. He was executive Vice president/CFO at Jordan McGrath Case & Partners and Arnold McGrath Worldwide, a unit of Havas. He was also Executive Vice President/COO at Grey’s promotional unit, J. Brown/LMC.

PL: While there’s no one-size-fits-all pitch process, do you think that clients are running more professional pitches today than in the past?

Tom: What we consistently hear is that reviews have become less professional and efficient than in the past. This is important because, to a degree clients have taken in-house some of the review practices that have traditionally been managed by industry consultants who were more adept at running professional pitches.

In terms of the efficiency of reviews, some of the things that are less efficient than they should be are cattle calls. You’ll have clients who are not experienced at doing reviews, and they’ll send information requests to far more agencies than should be included in the initial list.

Some of the other inefficient processes are what I would refer to as RFPs from hell. Here is one example. About a year and a half ago, one of our members called irate about an RFP that had 300 questions. And I said, “You’ve got to be exaggerating. It couldn’t possibly have been 300 questions.” So the person said, “Wait a minute. Let me look at this.” Then she commented, “Okay. You got me, I exaggerated. It’s 293 questions.” So this was an RFP that a client-sourcing group used. The RFP was geared to soliciting responses from ingredient suppliers, research and development firms, and contractors of all types. And woven into the 293 questions were a few marketing-related questions that were kind of like packed in there.

PL: So are you seeing these kinds of issues primarily with larger clients or also medium-sized to smaller clients?

Tom: These tended to be from marketers who did not have dedicated, knowledgeable marketing procurement folks. They were taking people who could source corrugated materials and chemical components and things of that nature.

PL: Is there an agency size factor? Is it affecting your large and small 4A’s members?

Tom: It affects members both small and large.

PL: Is that what you currently see as the biggest efficiency problem?

Tom: No. I have a list of efficiency problems I’d like to go through.
 One is cattle calls.
 Two is RFPs from hell.
 Three is the sub-optimal use of RFIs. Too many clients start a review with requests for detailed proposals when, in point of fact, they should be using a streamlined RFI to vet the long list. Get it down to a manageable few. And then start the deeper dive, including an RFP. Going out with an RFP to 10, 12, 15, or God knows how

One is cattle calls.
 Two is RFPs from hell.
 Three is the suboptimal use of RFIs.

Two is RFPs from hell.
 Three is the suboptimal use of RFIs.

Three is the suboptimal use of RFIs.

Too many clients start a review with requests for detailed proposals when, in point of fact, they should be using a streamlined RFI to vet the long list. Get it down to a manageable few. And then start the deeper dive, including an RFP. Going out with an RFP to 10, 12, 15, or God knows how many more is just not an efficient process. So we recommend starting that long list phase with an RFI.

PL: Do you think clients are doing this out of, let’s call it naiveté, or are they sometimes fishing for ideas?

Tom: There are certainly instances of clients conducting a review and fishing for ideas. There’s no question about that.

PL: You and the ANA put together a fairly extensive pitch guidelines document. How are you getting that document into the hands of clients so that hopefully they’ll run better pitches in the future?

Tom: The 4A’s and the ANA have actually collaborated on two documents, and I would view them as two chapters of the same book. A couple of years ago we authored guidelines for agency search. About a year or so after those guidelines were released, we wanted to understand if people were adhering to the guidelines. Are they making a difference, and what are the challenges that are still out there?

The challenges we heard back were sub-optimal use of RFIs, RFPs from hell, and inadequate briefings. So based on that, we again collaborated with the ANA and released just late last year, an agency selection briefing guide that advocates the broader use of RFIs. It describes when an RFI should be used and the advantages of using it. And it talks about the necessity of having a thorough briefing for every submission for review.

One point we have not yet addressed is the importance of having a client management decision-maker involved throughout the process.

Another is that we’re seeing more and more project reviews. So instead of a review for a major AOR or retainer relationship, these are reviews just for a short-term project and clearly the industry needs to do some work on streamlining processes and procedures for project reviews.

I wanted to get back to your specific question of “What are we doing to get the word out?” We introduced the second set of guidance during Advertising Week 2013. We have been communicating through ANA to their members using everything from bulletins, to a member webinar, and at the ANA Finance and Procurement Conference.

PL: Are you finding that your member agencies are disseminating this document to their prospective clients as well?

Tom: We are. And it’s to that fact we urge members to proactively utilize these guidelines. So as soon as they hear about a potential review, we are urging our members to send to the marketer these guidelines and to use the document as a trigger to discuss with the marketer how they’re going to conduct their reviews, what they’re really looking for, what the elements of the process will be. Some agencies are better than others at directly asking the marketer to provide any examples of where their process might appear to be varied from the industry guidelines.

By the way, the feedback that the proactive agencies have gotten has been universally positive. It’s because the proactive nature of the agency talking about, “Well how are you going do this?” rather than just saying, “Oh great, there’s going be a review, can I get in?” is viewed as more professional, thoughtful and diligent.

PL: Well I think that’s a great insight. I always thought that ultimately the client is not in the business of torture. The key point I heard in your answer is that savvy agencies recognize that they look more professional when they can help the client be more efficient with their search process. Read More »

Interpersonal Chemistry and Body Language

Interpersonal Chemistry and Body Language and Sales

Body-Language-ChartMany pitches are won not because you are brilliant, but because the client simply likes you. I’ve sat on both sides of the advertising agency and client sales table and I can safely say, from my client side, that interpersonal chemistry is a critical factor in agency selection decision making.

Given the similarities of agency A to B to C to D (especially by the time an agency has made a client’s short list), interpersonal chemistry — the… “Hey, I like these guys” vibration will be the “all agencies sound the same” deal breaker. Actually, based on many of the interviews in my book on pitching (see above), chemistry is THE decision maker. If we agree that interpersonal chemistry is a critical component in agency selection, then we better get out our test tubes.

I believe that interpersonal chemistry can be managed. Your agency simply (OK, nothing is that simple), should think hard about a few elements of creating love. Here are some:

  • Study the client’s brand history and, especially, its and its category’s, marketing pain points. In the best of all possible worlds, you already did this to get into the meeting in the first place.
  • Get to learn who the individual clients are. You have a world of tools to ID and learn about each decision making client. This research on work and personal history, education, social media posts, etc. forms the back bone of your account based marketing program. I tell all of my clients that there is no such thing as a blind-date in 2017.
  • Ask for a pre pitch chemistry meeting. And, make this critical meeting work for you.
  • Back to the dating metaphor: remember the meeting is about them, not you. This may be one of the biggest mistakes an agency makes. The client needs to know how you will address their issues. Not, list ad nauseam the elements of your unrelated really cool Instagram program.

Body Language Is Critical

One experiment that you don’t want to run in the face-to-face meeting is how to manage, use, and read body language. This isn’t new territory for most agency people as we spend a fair amount of time trying to decipher our current client’s body language in strategy and creative meetings. It really is amazing to see the difference between a client that leans in and one that folds their arms, crosses their legs, and leans back.

Albert Mehrabian, the Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA is well known for his study of verbal and non-verbal communication. According to Mehrabian’s 3 V’s of Communication, visual cues rule. Here’s his take on the relative value of three elements in face-to-face communication:

  • Verbal – words, content – 7%
  • Vocal – tone, pitch, intonation – 38%
  • Visual – body language, facial expression, gestures – 55%
  • Wow, content only gets 7%!?

I was a bit dumbfounded when I first saw this verbal, vocal, and visual breakdown. Is it possible that non-verbal communication is the essential ingredient of a successful presentation? Well no. And, that isn’t what Mr. Mehrabian is saying. Here is how a sage Wikipedian reports on Mehrabian’s conclusions.

“It is not the case that non-verbal elements in all senses convey the bulk of the message, even though this is how his conclusions are sometimes misinterpreted. For instance, when delivering a lecture or presentation, the textual content of the lecture is delivered entirely verbally, but the non-verbal cues are very important in conveying the speaker’s attitude towards what they are saying, notably their belief or conviction.”

Ah, the demonstration of “belief or conviction”.

This point is very important because we know that there can be an element of distrust in how some clients in the room might view an advertising agency presentation – “Oh, they will say anything to win the account; they are ad guys after all.”

I think that some of this client-think comes from the nature of our presenting the intangible magic of advertising (and, lately, the BS of digital marketing). A sense of disbelief is part of being on the buyer end of any somewhat subjective sales pitch. Therefore, we need to pay close attention to our non-verbal cues.

Playing to the intangibles of body language requires you to play two roles.

  1. The first is the role of observer. Is the client leaning in? Are they making eye contact or looking around the room or at their papers? How are they holding their arms (hopefully, not folded in front of them)? Are they fidgeting? Better, are they nodding in agreement, and are they taking notes?

Make sure that your team understands how to read the important positive and negative ‘tells’. Everyone should think like a poker player. If you need some extra stimulus on how to read the room, watch David Mamet’s great gambling movie House of Games.

2. Your other role is to be aware of your own body language, and make sure that your team is fully conscious of how they deliver their body language. Personally, I have always focused on my breathing, posture, and the position of my hands, head and eyes. I remind myself to go to an out-of-body view of how I might be perceived during the presentation. Self-awareness during the pitch is all-important.

We should want to look relaxed and stand straight. In this case, you also need to beware of looking too cool, or looking like the shifty poker players you see on TV who often want to demonstrate power by acting aloof. Rather, lean in like President Obama or Sean Hannity (hey, I am an equal opportunity viewer). Look like you believe in what you are saying and that you are confident.

Much of your conscious performance will be driven by your rehearsals which will make you familiar with your ideas, words, tone, pace, and body position. It is ok to critique your teammates during the rehearsal. Better that you point out a colleague’s wandering eye problem than have the client experience it later.


Be very uber conscious of your surroundings.

Make sure that you actively read the room. Pay attention to your audience, listen closely to their comments for clues, and note their posture. Be prepared to make subtle adjustments to your presentation based on what you are seeing. I have been in pitches where I know that my colleague is failing by watching the audience’s reaction. In a worse case scenario, the speaker isn’t paying attention to his audience — he is just trying to deliver his lines and get though his section. Bad move for him and for you. All of your presenters must be aware of how they are being received and make adjustments. Have a set of visual codes to alert your colleagues about any body language fails. You might want to have your impartial pitch critic (I discuss this in my pitch book) act disinterested in your rehearsal just for practice.

The Biggest Content Marketing Secret

And Ladies and Gentlemen…. The Biggest Content Marketing Secret

images secretReady, set, go. Shh… Here is the big content marketing secret to delivering brilliant insights, mucho content and a simple way of making you look real smart.

Creating relevant content every week is a bitch for small and medium sized advertising, digital, PR and whateva agencies. The hard part isn’t ‘relevant’, the hard part is doing it consistently.

The Secret

Interview the right, smart, eloquent people that can riff on tight subjets for 15 to 60 minutes. OK, 60 is too much cause you’ll have to edit it.

Do the interview on the telephone, via text-based questions or on Skype (or other Internet conversation platforms). Record the calls. Then, head over to Rev and have them transcribe the audio – overnight.

Easy, right? Yup!

I’ve done dozens of interviews for this blog, for my book (see above) and in guest posts.

Google loves SEO optimized content. Interviews rock.

Then… Amplify It

Every insight / AHA! blog or whatever post must be amplified via one or more of the following (I amplify everything.) I use the Rule of Five – amplify everything at least five ways. Here are some ideas.:

  • On your site in a very simple resources page or blog
  • To your current and past clients
  • To your lists as part of your email newsletter
  • In white papers
  • On LinkedIn to your ‘growing’ Followers
  • To your Facebook Followers
  • On Twitter (yes, it still works and can be used for targeting your competitor’s followers)
  • SlideShare (an underused platform)
  • Commenting (presence on LinkedIn Groups and big blogs)
  • Guest posting (seriously borrowed reach)
  • Your zine
  • And, on…

Need content (and who doesn’t?) Go forth and interview people.

Oh, I get interviewed too.

Here from Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels Of Separation (a master interview website /podcast):

SPOS #569 – The Relevance Of Marketing Agencies With Peter Levitan

You Will Lose 75% Of Your Advertising Agency Pitches

How To Win More Advertising Agency Pitches? Well, Buy My Book

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 9.27.37 AMThink I’m kidding. I’ve seen the common sense and insights and techniques inside my book work after people have simply read the book – they’ve won more advertising, PR, digital, experiential agency pitches. Other agencies have benefitted by hiring me as a business development and pitch coach; or, I’d imagine by watching my HubSpot pitch presentation which is nicely situated below for your viewing pleasure.

75% Sucks

Here’s the drill. You, if you are like most agencies, you will lose about 75% of your pitches*. This fact, of course, is painful. Kinda nuf said. But I’ll add some more heat to this fire. Pitches + the cost of daily business development  + a business development director salary and bonus can raise the hard and soft costs (labor, freelancers, and overhead) of an individual pitch to over $100,000.

  • FYI: Most agency leaders tell me that, given their sales skills, all they need to do is to get into a room with a client and they will sell them on hiring the agency. Hmmmm, sorry, the math does not work.

$14.99 To Leverage Your $100,000

So, for $14.99 you can buy a book that will at least remind you of all of the mistakes you should not make that might reduce your odds. At best, the book will help you win the pitch you are giving in three weeks. Am I selling hard here? You bet. I am getting tired of hearing about the mistakes that it seems every agency – large to small make every day. How do I know this? I talk to the kinds of advertising agency search consultants and clients that are interviewed in the book.

From HubSpot – The YouTube Video

Here’s the online seminar I gave to HubSpot peeps. Hope you enjoy it. Oh, and Win More Pitches. Oh #2, don’t forget to go to the top of this page to buy the book. Or, just go here.

The Secrets of Advertising Agency Business Development

The Not So Secrets of Advertising Agency Business Development

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 5.02.10 PMYou think that advertising agency business development is hard? Try getting on stage on Ed Sullivan or Carnegie Hall.

OK, so how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, you know the answer: Practice,  Practice, Practice.

The 10,000-Hour Rule

Here is a definition from Wikipedia of the 10,00-Hour rule as discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.

A common theme that appears throughout Outliers is the “10,000-Hour Rule”, based on a study byAnders Ericsson. Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time, using the source of The Beatles’ musical talents and Gates’ computer savvy as examples.

The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent and quotes Beatles’ biographer Phillip Norman as saying, “So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, ‘they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.’

Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

Is Your Advertising Agency Willing To Work (Hard) At Business Development?

If it isn’t, it will fail.

Try This Agency Road Map

  1. Have a master business plan that is reviewed at least annually. The marketing environment, especially in advertising, is changing on a monthly basis. Know how you will make the big bucks and plan for it.
  2. Have clear business development objectives. Not, “I want to work with Nike or Google.” Be real.
  3. Have an in and outbound marketing plan. It must be an easy to follow plan – or you will join the 60% of advertising agencies that do not run their plan.
  4. Up your Goggle ranking.
  5. Your plan must be smart but not too complicated. Process rules here.
  6. Be slavish to your agency’s brand positioning. Make it something client’s want.
  7. Have a business development leader that is 100% responsible for making sure the Biz Plan runs like clockwork. I suggest that for at least the first 6 months that that it be the CEO or COO. She is the feet-to-the-fire person. If the top person isn’t committed to putting agency time and assets towards business development 24/7 – fuhgeddaboudit.
  8. Biz Dev has to become part of agency culture. And, yes, it can be fun, too. Winning business because your plan is working is super fun.
  9. Biz Dev must a job on your daily project list like every client job. You are your agency’s client. If you don’t support the program, then what you do for paying clients will not matter when you shut down.
  10. Distribute the workload to responsible people in the agency. Make it part of their compensation plan. If they don’t do their part – they are not rewarded for their client work. They are not going get any bonus.
  11. Have a marketing calendar and be slavish to it.
  12. And… Whatever you do, make sure it’s Unignorable. Boring sucks.

Go do it. From Mario Andretti: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”