Nick Manning
Jul 06, 2012

OPINION: Four classic pitch mistakes

The seeds of client-agency mistrust are often sown during the pitch. Nick Manning, managing director for business development at Ebiquity, explains how to avoid the pitfalls.

OPINION: Four classic pitch mistakes


Relationships often go wrong. It’s a fact of life. But when relationships go wrong so often it’s worth asking why.

I asked a group of highly experienced marketers why the bond between media agency and advertiser frequently lasts just two to three years. Their answer: a breakdown in trust.

Conditions for this rapid erosion of trust are established at the pitch. Advertisers that want a longer-lasting relationship need to avoid four classic pitch mistakes. 

Pitch mistake No 1: Being economical with the truth

In the natural euphoria of pitch-frenzy, it’s easy to forget that the outcome of the pitch is a relationship and a contract.

The client needs to know that the promises made at pitch stage are based on real, copper-bottomed commitments that will be enshrined in a contract that both partners intend to fully comply with.

This means, for example, that the people offered to service the client’s business really are available and are not being promised at over 100 per cent of their time. If they work for a sister agency, this should be clear too, with associated actions for transfer.

If an agency is weak in a particular market—a classic challenge in Asia—the agency needs to say so and explain its proposed actions.

It means that transparency is real, not partial and can be delivered even in markets such as China where lack of transparency is common.

Trust derives from transparency and truth, and there can only be a proper, long-lasting business relationship if both are present.

Pitch mistake No 2: Leaving things open to interpretation

Relationships often break down because of a mismatch between what the client thinks they’re getting and what they actually receive.

If, for example a client will only pay on a commission basis, this should be set out in the brief. If they need 100 per cent dedicated full-time employee resource located near their head office, this should be clearly stated.

It’s a good idea to set out the main contractual terms as early as possible, as this also reduces the possibility that the eventual contract may take a year to resolve.

Clients need to take more time getting this right. It’s harder and takes more time, of course, but it pays dividends. Most multi-territory pitches should take six to nine months from start to finish.

Be as comprehensive as possible at briefing stage, especially when it comes to specifying contractual ‘must-haves’.

Pitch mistake No 3: Conflicting client-side expectations

It’s a cliché to say that all parts of a client company must be aligned in a pitch, but it is, of course, true. Marketing, procurement and finance must all be unified centrally, and local teams must also be in agreement as far as possible.

If this isn’t possible, an internal contract review might be a better option.

Assuming all parties are aligned, the brief is everything. Different stakeholder groups have their own goals, so the brief needs to be crystal-clear in covering all needs. There must be balanced scorecards to ensure the weighting is right between all the components of an agency’s contribution.

Ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are addressed in the brief and don’t hold a pitch unless everyone agrees that you should.

Pitch mistake No 4: focusing on Year 1

The main advantages of a pitch are recognised in the first year. This is where the headline-grabbing, double-digit advantages are to be gained. However, there is often too much emphasis on Year 1, with later years left open-ended.

Given that contracts are usually designed to last a minimum of three years, it is important that the promise of performance is set at the right level for the whole life of the contract.

After the early adrenaline wears off, the media agency has to demonstrate long-term enthusiasm for the business.

The status of agencies is still dominated by new business wins. When a big pitch is on, clients see their teams evaporate and often find that their much-loved account director is promised on the new win, leading to frustration.

The best-run agencies concentrate on servicing the growing needs of their longer-term client partners, widening their income organically and nurturing their relationships. In the longer-term these agencies do better and get stronger. By being stronger, they win more business.

Long view

Advertisers don’t want to lose trust in their agencies, and they don’t want to keep changing agencies. It’s highly disruptive, risky and time-consuming.

A more open, honest, thorough and professional approach to pitching and contract compliance goes a long way to creating longer-term relationships.

The article first appeared on Campaign Asia

Campaign India

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