For advertisers and their procurement teams, the starting point of any pitch process should always be the question: “Do I really need to run a competitive media agency pitch to achieve my desired goals?”

If, after considering every angle of that question, the answer is a clear and resounding “yes”, the next thing to ask is, “How do I run a pitch that leads my business to the best commercial outcomes?”

Without fail, the strongest commercial results come when a pitch process ends in a long-term partnership between an advertiser and the media agency that best fits their needs. They are delivered when the right commercial terms are struck and the agency is properly motivated to drive effectiveness for their client.

For procurement, it’s therefore critical to attract a top selection of agencies and give them the space to deliver their best work. Those are the fundamental ingredients of a successful pitch, but the days when clients could assume agencies would be tripping over themselves to pitch for their accounts are over.

Agencies are now far more selective about what they go for. Staff used to be in the office until 10 or 11pm working on new business pitches – but people don’t want to work like that anymore, and agencies are far more conscious of the strain it can put on their employees’ mental health. So that capacity has gone.

With increased economic pressures, agencies are also much more sensitive to the cost pitching incurs. Plus, there’s the opportunity cost of supporting existing clients, who quite rightly demand top talent, resources, and quality thinking on their businesses.

When the goal of most pitches today is to find the best capability, not simply the lowest cost, and media pricing is only a fraction of the decision making process, the best clients and their advisors work hard to attract the best agencies into a pitch process.

Advertisers then need agencies to present their best work so they can make an informed decision, but an ill-thought-out pitch process can be a death knell for creativity. If the advertiser focuses too much on cost and treats their relationship with an agency as transactional, there’s less incentive to deliver fantastic strategic or innovative work.

There’s always a lot of focus on how agencies can give clients what they want in a pitch, but advertisers understand that they need to meet the needs of the agencies too. That’s where sustainable partnerships begin and the best commercial outcomes are born.

So, what makes a good pitch process from the media agency’s perspective? The Aperto Partnership recently conducted a research study with new business leaders from some of the UK’s top network and independent media agencies and saw six key themes emerge.

  1. Chemistry: Pitching used to be a very personal process, but the pandemic hangover has seen many clients fall back on video calls and emails to communicate. Agencies want direct face-to-face interactions with clients to build chemistry and test out ideas, arguing that this facilitates a more collaborative relationship in the long term.
  2. A logical process: Is there anything worse than a disorganised pitch? Agencies want a structured approach to the pitch process, with logical stages that align with the client’s business challenges. They also prefer to separate specific topics, like tools and technologies, into individual sessions with a client’s specialists so they can formulate the best possible response.
  3. Constant communication: Agencies want to know they are aligned with the client and understand what they want to see. Continuous and transparent communication between clients, intermediaries and agencies is therefore a must.
  4. Flexibility: Agency schedules don’t always align with client expectations, so allowing some flexibility in timelines is appreciated to help safeguard staff’s mental and physical well-being. That includes clients being mindful of what they ask an agency to do over holiday periods – nobody will thank you for a deadline immediately before Christmas or in the first week of a New Year.
  5. Transparency: Agencies don’t have infinite time or money, so the last thing they want to do is waste their resources on a pitch they can’t win. Clients need to be honest and open, giving insight into why they are pitching and what the participating agencies need to do to be successful. This is especially important for the incumbent – if they have no chance of success, there are ways to manage an exit in a more considerate way than putting them through a fruitless pitch process.
  6. Feedback: Detailed, honest, and constructive feedback throughout and at the end of the process is essential for agencies to iterate and improve their pitches. Clients should acknowledge their efforts and provide unsuccessful agencies with actionable insights that might help them in the future.

One-sided pitch processes have long been an industry pain point, and as years of inflation and supply chain cost increases have made many advertisers more cost-focused, the situation is arguably getting worse.

The best procurement professionals understand that a media agency’s value is in its expertise, not its prices. They think about how to remove barriers during a pitch process to help participating agencies demonstrate the best versions of themselves possible, and they set out a vision of a partnership that is consistent with their behaviour during the pitch.

They also understand the benefit of seeking specialist experienced support and work collaboratively with their media advisors to create a first-class process that maximises the chances of the best result.

At the end of the day, respecting agencies’ needs and wants is also just the right thing to do. A one-sided process is an incredibly miserable experience for agency staff, as we can attest from personal experience.

We believe that pitching should be the starting point of a long-term, sustainable relationship – a marriage and not a wedding!

Ultimately, considerate pitching is how you attract the best agencies and get the best work from them. Better agencies plus better work equals better outcomes for the advertiser.

 

The Aperto Partnership is one of the UK’s leading media advisory businesses, helping advertisers build more valuable media agency partnerships. It is an ISBA partner and a founding supporter of the Pitch Positive Pledge. Recent clients where The Aperto Parnership has supported on a competitive pitch process include L’Oréal, Sky, Direct Line Group, William Hill, TUI Group, Rightmove, MoneySuperMarket, Miele, Bensons For Beds, Farfetch, Polaroid, UKTV and British Heart Foundation.

 

For help running a best-in-class media agency pitch process get in touch with The Aperto Partnership.