Concepts & Communication — July 6, 2023

Inside the world of pitching

Ana Marija Malić Brand Communication Director

At the end of the first half of the year, most managers will spend the next period reflecting and analyzing their business, and I am no exception. My head is spinning with all the projects my unit and I have or haven’t done, the growth we achieved, our biggest losses, greatest learnings, fluctuation, what we could do better in general, and how I can be a better leader and achieve more.

In my opinion, analysis is essential in everything we do and is an excellent tool for decision-making. Something that is often the subject of my idealistic reflections (because I’m just a dreamer), especially when analyzing, is pitching – most often a painful topic for an average person working in a marketing agency. I don’t know if the reason for that is the result on the scoreboard or the fact that, unfortunately, the advertising industry still hasn’t reached the level where clients and agencies are equal. A transparent level where one party has a problem and asks for a certain solution – service, and the other party delivers what was agreed upon and is adequately treated and compensated for it.

What is a pitch anyway?

Pitch (verb) – to try to persuade someone to do something

Sounds pretty manipulative and powerful, doesn’t it? In the agency world, it often boils down to a process with no rules as to which idea will win. There are so many factors and so many layers that affect the decision who will be the final winner. It would seem that we have all already learned about this folklore, as the roles and the rules of the game are generally known to all of us, and the probability of winning can often be assumed in advance, but it’s not the case. That’s why I sometimes wonder what would happen if we switched sides. 

Imagine – the agency announces a pitch where it chooses clients to work with! For example, the agency wants to cooperate with an FMCG client from the Adria-Balkan region and sends a brief to 3 addresses with a series of questions to which it expects answers. Who’s in the team on the client’s side, what’s the professional qualification of the person with whom the agency will be in direct contact (please also attach a CV!), what’s the level of fluctuation on the client’s side, what’s the response time, will the team be dedicated to that agency or will they cooperate with others, what’s the client’s USP versus its competitors, etc.? 

Clients who are shortlisted receive a second task to make their examples of writing briefs to the agency in the form of a presentation within xy working days:

  • when there is a need for a hero campaign;
  • when it is necessary to make a social media content plan;
  • when to create a visual.

In addition, the agency needs a business proposal – how much potential clients are willing to pay for the services mentioned above. The most competitive price wins, in case we forgot to emphasize!

Does it sound utterly improbable to you that things could work that way? I know it does, and it will probably never happen. That’s why the whole idea remains in my Pitch World. But let’s go back to the beginning. Summer has begun, next comes autumn, and the end of the year is just around the corner when we’ll review the situation again and think about what we can do better in the next one, as well as what we want in terms of business. Many questions are running through my head, and one of them is, should the entire pitching process be that way? Is it crucial to send so much proof that we are at an acceptable level and that we can do something we’re specialized in? Shouldn’t the quality of the solution be one of the key factors, in addition to being a cultural fit, for winning the pitch? I leave it to you to think.

Each pitch to agencies represents additional efforts that are often not recognized or financially compensated by clients. Unfortunately, the practice of compensation for pitches has not yet been widely adopted, and it is commonly expected that agencies will freely participate in pitches and fully adapt to client requirements.

The other side of the coin is that each agency’s participation in a pitch process entails the following:

  • Time and resource investment: Preparing and delivering a pitch requires significant time and resources from marketing agencies. This usually includes researching the client’s needs, developing a comprehensive strategy, creating visuals and presentations, and allocating resources to pitch preparation. If the agency doesn’t win the pitch, these efforts may go to waste.
  • Financial costs: Pitching can be costly for agencies, especially when pursuing high-value clients. Expenses may include travel costs for in-person presentations, production costs for pitch materials, and dedicated staff hours to pitch development. If multiple pitches are pursued simultaneously, the financial burden can become substantial.
  • Reduced profitability: Agencies often offer their services at a reduced rate during the pitching process to attract clients. Winning the pitch doesn’t guarantee long-term profitability, as clients may negotiate lower fees or require additional services within a tight budget. This can impact the agency’s revenue and profitability.
  • Intellectual property concerns: During the pitching process, agencies may need to share their creative ideas, strategies, and methodologies. There is a risk that the client could steal or use these ideas without awarding the agency the project. This potential loss of intellectual property can be demoralizing and detrimental to an agency’s competitiveness.
  • Opportunity cost: Engaging in the pitching process consumes time and energy that could be spent on existing clients or business development efforts. If agencies dedicate too many resources to pitching, they may neglect their current clients, leading to a decline in service quality or lost business opportunities.
  • Lack of feedback: In many cases, agencies receive limited or no feedback on why they didn’t win a pitch. This can make it challenging to identify areas for improvement or understand how to better align with client expectations. Without feedback, agencies may struggle to refine their strategies and pitches for future opportunities.

Despite these drawbacks, pitching can still be a valuable way for marketing agencies to win new clients and showcase their capabilities. But fair play is essential for mutual satisfaction and partnership. Ultimately, we all want to be successful, make profits and positive margins.

I wish for myself and all of you more sincere partner relationships. More transparent communication in the client-agency relationship. More pitches that you’ll be lucky to work on and compete with your industry peers (may the best win!). More pitches where you will meet different agencies and win awards with them! Fewer contests where the uncompetitive price wins, and you have to prove and defend your worth (you don’t need that kind of attitude, no matter what side you’re on)! More learning, more self-reflection, and more tolerance. The world has become a cruel place anyway, so it applies here – be the change you want to see in the world!