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Dr. Jodi's Prescription for Pitch Preparation 

I had always suspected that the pitch process would be somewhat complicated, but the extent of that complexity was not realized until I spent eighteen months delving into the minds of clients, agency personnel, and search consultants. Respondents all had significant experience in pitching and described the pitch process as stressful, exhilarating, tiresome, energizing, and deflating; needless to say, it validated my desire to discover as much as I could about the process.

Although agencies, clients, and consultants face their fair share of challenges during a pitch process, my research revealed that agencies may encounter a few more than the other constituencies. This is largely an issue of control; the client (or consultant on behalf of the client) calls all the shots, is always right, and leaves agencies little choice but to just follow the rules and deliver...right? In addition, in this stressful economic climate, agencies may feel as if they have to do whatever is asked and required by clients in order to stay afloat. The results of my study support three key recommendations that could potentially benefit agencies when participating in a pitch process.

  1. Build a Cohesive Agency Team
  2. Avoid Spec Work Like the Plague
  3. Insist on Collaboration Meetings

Build a Cohesive Agency Team

Sure chemistry is important between the client and the agency, but chemistry within the agency team should not be overlooked. The majority of the clients interviewed commented how obvious it is when agency pitch teams do not have the right chemistry. This can be a deterrent for clients, as a lack of cohesiveness within the agency team can dilute any confidence the client may have originally had in the agency. Because it is so common for agency pitch teams to be thrown together at a moment’s notice, it is not uncommon for these individuals to have had limited time to work together and build a sense of team unity. In fact, in many cases, respondents indicated that working on a pitch team may have been their first and only time working with a set of individuals. How can agencies better facilitate a team-building environment? Would it be possible for each pitch team to have a few meetings and work on team dynamics before ever working on a piece of business together?

Avoid Spec Work Like the Plague

As many previous posts have addressed, speculative work, though oftentimes produced, should not be done. Agencies need to value their services and not spend time simply giving ideas away. This is a slippery slope because agencies want to go above and beyond to impress clients with their creative prowess; however, the time spent doing spec work would be better spent on a collaborative exercise with the client (this will be discussed further below). The reason for this is that in many cases, if not the majority of the cases, the work that is produced during the pitch process does not ever see the light of day. Of course there are exceptions, but most clients end up tweaking what is presented therefore the huge time and financial investment of spec work is not justified. How can agencies all come together to implement a universal no-spec work clause?

Insist on Collaboration Meetings

This may seem tricky to implement as many of the pitch processes are bound by restrictions on meetings and time frames; however, just as a client presents an RFP, I think the agencies should have their own version of what is required in order to proceed with a particular process. The ironic thing is that everyone says how there is “not enough time” to conduct several meetings face-to-face; however, all of the respondents I interviewed mentioned how the most satisfying pitch processes were those with a strong collaborative element between client and agency. Sure, it may take more time on the front-end but ultimately wouldn’t it be worth spending more time finding out if the relationship is going to work before signing any long-term contracts? If agencies are in the business of selling creative ideas, couldn’t they also sell the benefits of collaboration time with their potential clients?

Of course these recommendations just barely scratch the surface of the abundance of insights that my research uncovered, but one thing I know for sure is pitching is not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart.

Jodi Lisa Smith Ph.D
University of Texas, Austin

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