Is Your Advertising Agency Pitching Too Much?

Is Your Advertising Agency Pitching Too Much? Maybe You Need To Say No!

Here is an excerpt from my book on pitching and presenting. This tidbit emphasizes the importance of not (allow me to repeat myself) not pitching every account that whistles. You can’t afford it. It costs too much cash, time, energy and agency staff pain. Pitching too much causes one more problem. You will reduce your  business development ROI.

There is lots more in  “The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book Win More Pitches.” You can buy the paperback and eBook on -> Amazon.

Yes, No, Maybe?

Before you embark on a new pitch, you should be asking yourself one extremely important question…

Should we be pitching this account?

I know what you are thinking… Levitan’s kidding right? We’ve made it through the RFI and RFP stages, and now he wants us to ask if we should even be going to the finals?

It’s still ok to say “no”, and now is the time to take a deep breath and review a go-no-go decision. You are about to spend a great deal of time and money. Are you sure that you should go through the next step? Are your colleague’s groans getting louder? Looking in any way ambivalent about the pitch will not help your pitch team feel good about charging into it. Passionless pitches don’t win.

Pitch or not is usually one of the most difficult decisions agency management has to make. There is a good chance that you think that you’ve already answered this question if you participated in an RFP that led to your selection as a short list candidate. I believe that even if you’ve performed a sound decision making process, now is the time to stop to determine if this potentially expensive pitch is worth the time, effort, and human and cash cost.

Some agencies view pitching as a numbers game. Swing at more pitches, and you’ll get hits. Unfortunately, whiffing will drive down your batting average and the agency’s profitability. And eat at its soul.

Really, just stop for a second and think this one through. This is the time to dig deep, and ask yourself if you actually have a good chance of winning the account and… if this is the kind of client you really want. Is this client qualified to be your client?

The Pick Two Decision

As an agency owner, I always cherished four client attributes. Frankly, if I could get just two of these, I’d be happy. Our client Nike delivered all four.

  1. Fame. Famous clients look great on your client roster, act as poster children for prospective clients that need third-party reassurance that you deliver results, help you woo more talented creatives, and having famous clients will make your mothers proud.
  2. Creative. You are in the creative services industry because you are creative and want clients who respect creativity. Creativity to me extends beyond just the creative idea into creative media, strategies, consumer insights, and technology. That said, the bottom line for most agencies is that we want to make great advertising programs, and to get there, you need clients that want that too.
  3. Cash. Fame is nice. Clios are nice. But cash rules. After all, you are in business. In this case, money means having clients that deliver agency profits. No profits = no staff, no creative, no brilliant social media strategies, no awards… no agency.
  4. Nice. Early in my career, I was given the advice that I should only work with clients who align with my agency’s values and share mutual respect. To take it a step further… work with nice people that you like. If I appear to have gone all gooey, I listened, and it was great advice. Life is too short to work with assholes.

The pick two-decision will help you begin to confirm that you should be pitching this client.

But, there are a few more important things to consider and weigh as you make your decision to proceed.

  • Does this client need what you have to offer? Is your experience, expertise, or creative product what they really need (or think they need)?
  • Do you know the client’s agency selection criteria? Do you think you meet it? Are you the right fit? Can your agency really handle this client? Would you hire you?
  • Has the client clearly stated what they are looking for? Do they sound smart?
  • Has the client discussed budgets and their compensation system? They might not want to provide details, but you should have a good perspective on a range and a system. Too many agencies have gone months deep into a pitch only to find out that they can’t afford to work with the client.
  • What is the client’s agency history? Are they perceived as being a good client? Are they loyal or fickle? Burger King has had at least twelve AOR agencies since 1970. Toyota has had one.
  • Is your agency so specialized that the client must hire you?
  • Is your agency’s location a plus or a minus? Specialists can be further away.
  • Are you the outlier agency? The one that’s simply invited to round out the list?
  • Have you met with client management and started a relationship? Are you simpatico? If you haven’t met with them, you should insist that you do it now before you get too far down the road. It is in their best interest to want to meet before the big day.
  • If the pitch is managed by an agency search consultant, have you begun to understand their role, process, and motivations? Do you know them? Are they being straight with you?
  • Is the incumbent in the pitch? If so, why do you think that the client might be replacing them? It is possible that the incumbent is a lock because the client is obligated to put the account up for a procurement-driven review on a scheduled basis? Try to figure this out.
  • This next question could be the toughest. Is your agency the incumbent, and should you bother pitching your client? Ouch. Clearly, this will be a one-off gut-check question that only you can answer. While you are thinking, keep this less than appealing statistic in mind. According to Advertising Age, “After all, fewer than 10% of incumbent agencies are estimated – by the reckoning of either the 4A’s, industry consultants or Ad Age – to hang on to an account at the conclusion of a review process.” Because of these odds, many agencies have a no-defend policy.
  • Finally, does agency management really want this client? Are they psyched? Will they fully support the pitch?

There are a lot of questions to consider before you say – Go. If your analysis of the situation produces wobbly answers, dig deeper and make an objective decision.

Want To Win More Pitches?

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