Vineet Sodhani
Aug 23, 2019

Opinion: Getting under the pitch surface - Part one

This two-part series, highlights the crucial elements that a client and an agency should keep in mind. This first part of this is dedicated to the client:

Vineet Sodhani
Vineet Sodhani
A call to participate in a creative pitch is the moment any agency continuously seeks since it represents a step-change opportunity.  From the client’s perspective too, the pitch call is a transformation opportunity along myriad dimensions. It sets the stage for new brand custodians and an injection of fresh talent & energies into the brand. To make a balanced and well-informed decision, the pitch and agency appointment process should be rather robust and professionally sound. 
In this two-part series, I highlight the crucial elements that a client and an agency should keep in mind. The first part of this is dedicated to the client:
Do you really need a pitch? – Ask yourself this question if you really want to call a pitch. Or is it just to get fresh thoughts or to jostle the current agency that has turned complacent. While you may get what you want, it is not fair for the participating agencies as they put in many hours of work. See if talking to your current agency will improve things, thoughts. If there is a dead end, take the step. 
Initial screening – During multi agency pitches, conflicts must be examined. Parameters for shortlisting may vary. Hence it is important for the client to specify what they are looking in the credentials – specific case studies, references, regional capabilities, awards etc. Create a weighting scale basis all factors critical to you and make your initial shortlist. Keep a buffer of one-two agencies as someone might just back out at the last moment (Yes, we have seen many!). 
NDA and rights to work -- Before sharing the brief, the NDA should be signed. There have been cases where the agency was not selected but one of its ideas was liked by the client. Here, both parties negotiate the price for the idea. Though difficult to practice, ideally, the price should be pre-decided. 
The Brief – A client may look for an agency for multiple brands, but may want to issue a brief for only one or at best two brands as a test case. Pick the most important brands in your portfolio. Create a comprehensive and clear pitch brief so the solution can well match the problem. Expectations must be laid out in clear, unambiguous terms. The brief should be accompanied by sharing of necessary documents, research extracts, past work etc. Many clients have this tendency to hold information with the expectation that the agency should research it to showcase its hunger for the business. Our advice is to share all sharable information so that the agency spends time in solution rather than finding and then presenting stuff that the client is aware of. However, avoid information overload.  
Brief clarification – Ideally the pitch brief should be followed by an in-person/call with each of the  participating agencies individually by the client team. The client should ask the agency to minute the discussions to avoid misrepresentation or misunderstanding. 
Preparation time – An optimal time frame would be 3 weeks.
Concept note – Especially applicable in a creative pitch, this is a great practice but not often followed in the Indian market. An ‘issue’ concept creative stage basis an articulated strategy, profiling of the key target audience and consumer trends is shared few days after the brief is circulated. Client should provide a well consolidated written feedback before the agency begins to prepare for the full-fledged strategy + creative presentation. 
Evaluation – If we want the ‘best foot forward’, we must ensure a fair evaluation scoring system is shared with participating agencies after the brief has been issued. It is good to use a balanced scorecard for evaluating the agency presentations – spelling out key factors and their relative weights. This is a refreshing addition to the conventional pitch process and helps in reinforcing the focus points of the brief. If fee is as critical as strategy, spell it out. 
Presentations – Ideal time allocated to the presentation may vary from case to case but general recommendation is to cap it around an hour and a half. Clients should avoid more than 3 presentations in a day to allow for better audience focus and proper evaluation. A minimum of four attendees from the client side should be present for every presentation to get a cross section of feedback. A good hygiene step is to prior check the venue arrangements, projection and sound system, seating arrangements and the proverbial IT support person to be ready at hand! Check number of attendees from the agency side beforehand to make sure your conference room can fit all of them. In a pitch the agency got 11 people and there were 7 from the client side including us and conference room could accommodate only 12! If you have limited space, mention maximum number of attendees an agency can bring beforehand. Sumptuous refreshments should be provided irrespective of the time of the pitch. Often the pitching team has not had a proper meal for hours before the pitch. 
Post presentation – The evaluation must be followed with post pitch evaluation discussions between the key client persons and external ‘specialist’ basis aggregated scoring, qualitative aspects and other observations. This is a crucial meeting to be steered in a non-partisan way and thereafter recorded for referencing in future.
Communication – All participating agencies should be communicated about the results and reasons for choosing the winning agency. 
(Vineet Sodhani is the CEO, Spatial Access.)
Campaign India

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