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