How To Run A Perfect Advertising Agency Pitch
Avi Dan followed me as the guy running Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide’s business development program (and, I think did a better job than me as by the end of my tenure all I could think about was the growing Internet space). Avi just wrote the following article on LinkedIn about the subject of the good, bad, and ugly advertising agency pitch. I thought that I’d respond a bit to his thinking because I wrote the New York Times best-selling book on how to run the world’s most powerful, new business-delivering ad agency pitch.
From Avi’s bio… “Avi Dan is a columnist for Forbes, a former CEO and board member of 3 major agencies, and a highly regarded agency pitch consultant. By his own estimate, he has been involved in over 200 pitches in the past 30 years.”
Q&A With A Pitch Consultant: “Don’t Hire The Agency That Inspires You, Hire The Agency That Is Inspired BY YOU”
In 2019, the year right before Covid, a Morgan Stanley analyst had reported that a record $35 Billion of advertising spending was up for review. That was almost more money hanging in the balance than the amount under review during the previous two years, combined. With the economy picking up now, advertisers are, once again, rethinking their agency relationships. Ad Age had recently reported that one-third of all advertisers stated that, they plan to put their business into a pitch.
Peter: One-third? Crazy. This really can only mean one of two things. Either advertising agencies are doing a shit job or clients have no clue what they really want from their agency. A smart client should be able to get smart thinking and service out of their own — current — agency. I have been an agency owner and a client. Good clients know how to manage their agencies. Well, most. It is absurd that one-third should think they have a failing relationship. Too high.
Q: Why do you think there are so many reviews lately?
A: If those numbers tell you anything, it’s that, advertisers aren’t happy with their agencies, even the good ones. For example, Wieden had lost KFC and Droga5 had recently lost IHOP. Marketing is much more complex these days, and very few agencies are capable of evolving fast enough to keep up with the needs of their client. What’s surprising isn’t that so much is in review, but, that it didn’t happen sooner.
Peter: Avi says… “very few agencies are capable of evolving fast enough.” OK, possibly true for many. But not Droga5 and Wieden. These best-of-class agencies are just too good, big and well-managed. So, I’ll point to clients as a failure point. By the way, how can anyone be expected to dramatically increase pancake and waffle sales during a pandemic?
Q: How are pitches different now?
A: The briefs for pitches that we see coming through to us now, are more transformational. Clients are deep into the digital transformation, and so is the consumer and the media. Technology, cloud services, eCommerce, data, and virtual CX are becoming critical issues for the enterprise.
Peter: The marketing world has been way about the idea of digital transformational since I left Saatchi in 1995 to put major newspapers online (and invent website advertising – yes, I did that) or in 2000 when my company Activebuddy invented interactive chatbots including SmarterChild and commercial bots for clients like Radiohead. Is Avi saying that the zillions of agency people that live and breath digital do not understand transformation? Could they be worse at it than a marketing director at IHOP? Side note. I have been a consultant in a few advertising agency pitches lately and every agency talks transformation or related subjects. How could they not?
Q: You are very critical of the pitch process. Why?
A: The proof is in the pudding. There are very few picks that do pan out. It used to be, not too long ago, that, agencies worked with the same client for decades. These days, clients are likely to change agencies just as fast as they change their socks. A lot of arrangements break down in less than two to three years, which is a surprising and discomforting statistic.
Peter: Clients now have a project mentality vs. the old-fashioned AOR relationship. Plus every new marketing director wants her or his very own agency. We can also blame procurment and scheduled reviews for the longevity issue.
Q: How do you explain the brief tenure?
A: Pitches are distorted. Agencies are good at seducing clients with dazzling presentations. And that can be very tempting. But that’s superficial showmanship, not the real thing. If you choose an agency based on an emotional reaction to the presentation, chances are that you’re not going to wind up with your ideal long-term partner.
Peter: My pitch system is based on being smart, insightful, client issue focussed, being smart, focussed on the client and… sure, be a fucking cool group that sounds like they give a shit. Again, I think too many clients do not know how to make a selection … from Avi… “If you choose an agency based on an emotional reaction to the presentation, chances are that you’re not going to wind up with your ideal long-term partner.” This is why many smart clients use pitch consultants like Avidan Strategies.
Q: So, what’s important for choosing an agency in a pitch?
A: I look for a spark and enthusiasm. In the end, hiring an agency is an investment in people. Just take a look at who is sitting across the table from you. Beyond the case studies and research, ask yourself, whether or not you actually like the people that would be touching your business. Just like in any relationship, there needs to be a level of bonding and trust that keeps you steadily excited and the relationship growing.
Peter: Why am I thinking that Avi had just said that emotions should not play a ‘too’ major part in advertising agency pitch selection? Winning a pitch includes both art and science and, OK, being groovy. As in approratly groovy.
Q: What do you look for in the agency team?
A: Ask yourself if you’re impressed by how they think, not what they think. Also, just how did they come to the solution for your particular problem? Did they provide you with insights, or did they only just present a flashy commercial? One can always make adjustments on creative, but you can’t change the way a person thinks.
Peter: Agree totally. But, you can not be impressed by how people think without also being impressed by what they think. I don’t think that this is a binary issue.
Q: What’s the biggest client failing in the process?
A: Clients don’t have the inside information about agencies. They often go by what they read in the trades, which doesn’t give them the full story. It’s basically the same old, same old. In fact, there is now an influx of up-and-coming small creative shops that they miss.
Peter: Come on. Clients should do their homework. Selecting an agency is not, sorry to say this, rocket science. It just took me like 11 seconds to find Motto. With clients like Google, Brooklyn Brewery and Microsoft.
Q: How do you decide which agencies to include in a pitch?
A: I look for passion and insatiable curiosity in the culture and blood of the organization. And I look for grit. Grit is the most overlooked trait in selecting an agency. By Grit, I mean the agency’s ability to constructively work through the changes and challenges that inevitably occur in the aftermath of the pitch, which basically is what makes for a successful relationship in the end.
Peter: This is why firing gritty Droga5 and Wieden sounds insane. Either agency management totally failed or client management totally failed. Do not buy a Ferrari unless you know how to drive a super car.
The Perfect Advertising Agency Pitch
No. There is not a perfect advertising agency pitch. But, there is a guy like me that can help to get to like very close to perfect.