Ditch the Pitch

31Oct08

(Article provided by E3 associated network, ABBA).

How did you select your current agency? If the experience of ABBA members is anything to go by you probably asked 3 or 4 agencies to take part in an unpaid creative pitch. It has become the standard approach. But is it fair? And is it effective? I would argue that it’s neither and I have a solution. Firstly let’s address the issue of fairness. To ask any other professional to use their skill, expertise and creativity to find a solution to your problem before committing to use them would be almost criminal. Try it with your solicitor, or your accountant, your business consultant or even your dentist. See what they say.

So the principle is wrong. But even if we just accept that this is how the world is and comply with an inequitable system, I would still like to question the judging process. I use that term deliberately, because it is a beauty parade or a competition. A group of people, often of limited marketing experience, use their sixth sense to decide who has the best strategy and which is the best creative execution.

Admittedly some clients use a semi-scientific score sheet to awards marks out of 5 for things as diverse as “quality of people”, “presentation techniques” or “sector experience”. Are these the right criteria? And what deserves a 4 as opposed to a 3? All this achieves is some formality to a subjective judgement. And what’s more, usually one or two of the judging panel have “previous” with some agencies and not others and that is bound to colour their judgement.

Which ever way you look at it it’s not a fair or objective process. So what about effectiveness?

Consider the process. You talk through the brief (or sometimes even email it through). Maybe you meet the agencies to enable them to interrogate it further and then, two weeks later they come back and, as if by magic, you choose your campaign from the three alternative routes they’ve developed. Now compare that with how you work with your existing agency.

There’s much more interaction, much more discussion, much more exploration of creative ideas and a genuine commitment to develop the most effective creative you can. It’s usually a process that makes the most of your knowledge and experience and the agencies creativity and insight. “Well, we can do that after the pitch” I hear you say. We all know that rarely happens. You’ve made your choice and probably won’t want to spend yet more time to revisit it, and they’ve invested two weeks of expensive agency resource and will want to recover the costs with as little development work as possible. So you stick with what you have chosen.

ABBA would like to see B2B clients take and stand and change the agency selection process. We suggest two alternative routes:

  1. The workshop
    Rather than giving out a brief to 4 agencies spend a little more time in compiling your shortlist and then choose just two and invite them to run a workshop for you. Provide them with the objective but leave it up to them to decide who attends and the structure and content. It will give you an invaluable insight into how they approach problems, how well they understand (or are ever likely to understand) your situation and your markets and critically what they are going to be like to work with. Having spent 3 hours working with them, rather than listening to them the final choice will be easy.
  2. The Dummy Brief
    Less controversially, perhaps, but addressing at least, the issue of the effectiveness of the selection process, our second suggestion is to issue a dummy brief. Again select your two favourites but this time agree to pay them a fixed sum for taking part. By dummy brief we mean one that is designed to test them, to stretch them and to see how far they could take your brand. They still have to invest the time, but the advantage is that they are free to express themselves and they are more likely to suggest creative routes that you may feel uncomfortable with rather than trying to second guess what you’re looking for. (Yes, it does happen). Having made your choice, you can then get to grips with your real brief, but this time working closely together.

    Just try it. See how much easier and effective the selection becomes. And, once you have invested the time in narrowing down your initial choice, how much more enjoyable and less time consuming the whole process is. Finally see how much more confident your will be that you have made the right choice and have picked a partner not just a supplier. Let us know how it goes.

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