Although the local marcomm industry is winning major awards internationally and Romanian specialists are giving speeches and presentations at top international events, players complain that most clients still have problems learning and using the basic industry ABCs. Many continue to invite too many agencies to pitches, don’t pay them for their efforts and sometimes even steal their ideas and use them with rivals.
By Romanita Oprea
What should a client know and take into consideration when organizing a pitch? First of all, it depends on the point the business is at. It’s one thing to be on your first pitch with your first agency and another to be considering changing the agency you already have a partnership with. According to Carmen Simion, new business director at Dentsu Aegis Network Romania, a client should define their needs very well, whether they are seeking an agency for the long term or just for one project. After they have their needs defined they should scout for agencies to make a shortlist: see which ones provide the services they need, what groups the agency is part of, the portfolios it handles or has handled, what kind of projects it has done and finally, what are its references like (if any).
“I’ve had experience with dozens of pitches over the years and almost every time the companies have proven to have no development strategy from the beginning. The departments cannot pinpoint what they are looking for – you can see it from the way the brief is written. There are no studies or solid research to support the brief there are no internal processes to provide relevant information, such as other campaigns with similar results or mechanisms, or conclusions drawn from other tested projects. The work structure is often faulty. The marketing teams are already hyper busy, and the pitch is just another ‘to-do’ on their lists. You can notice this from the short deadlines that agencies are given,” says Mia Munteanu, client service director at Marks.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) recommends a checklist for clients to consider before embarking on an agency search. First of all: why are they organizing the pitch, do they have the full support of the top management, do they really need outside help or can they handle the process internally? Another aspect, especially when choosing another agency or adding a second one: clients should decide whether they are acting as the orchestrator of a series of agency relationships, they need a ‘lead’ agency, or a ‘one-stop-shop’.
“The second point is for the client to define very clearly the selection criteria. Also, take into consideration that for the agency a pitch is always an extra job, and agencies usually put a lot of resource into any pitch: in terms of people, time and money. It would be great to offer some compensation for agencies that take part in the pitch. Try to invite specialist agencies, depending on the needs of the brief,” adds Simion.
After these important steps comes the brief, which often proves to be a big challenge, both for clients and agencies. “The pitch organizing team should gain the full agreement of all those involved in the decision-making process about the requirements of the agency. They must invest time and effort in agreeing the budget and producing a written brief describing the brand or company’s current position, and where it wants to be in the context of clear marketing and business objectives,” says Cristina Oncescu, head of strategy at pastel. Moreover, the client should give thought to the type of search that will best assist it in making the appointment. “The traditional pitch process is expensive for both parties, so agree fees where appropriate to offset a fair proportion of agency costs and to ensure a professional approach on both sides. Understand that many successful agency appointments are based on reputation, personal chemistry, credentials and references from other clients, as opposed to pitches. Workshops and trial projects are also effective methods of choosing an agency. Equally, online ‘e-sourcing’ techniques may help in the initial stages of researching the marketplace, but they should not replace the face-to-face contact which is so important in conducting a successful review and selection process,” adds Oncescu.
If the client has covered the above and still decides to go through with the pitch process, here are the steps: prepare all the necessary background information, hold chemistry meetings and sign a confidentiality agreement, think of the response required and prepare a written brief accordingly, consider the time necessary for response to the brief, give the agency background market data, interpretation and clarification, agree basic contractual terms upfront, understand the roles of all those involved on both sides and set up an objective evaluation system.
All the specialists canvassed by BR agree that the client should invite no more than five firms to take part in the pitch process, three being the perfect number.
In Munteanu’s opinion, the brief should most of all be honest with itself, with the expectations of the company it represents and with the agency. “It is simple in theory, complicated in practice. It doesn’t matter how well you can write a brief, what matters is how realistically you can estimate your own resources and the transparent communication that you can build with your project partners,” notes the Marks representative.
That said, the IPA has three basic principles that it advises companies to take in account: being clear about what is needed, providing the critical information necessary to complete the task and inspiring or motivating people to do their best.
After the winner is chosen, the client should inform the agencies (both the winning and losing ones) quickly and fairly. The losing team or teams should be offered an explanation for the result. Moreover, ensure that all participating agencies learn of the result on the same day. Once the client has established that the chosen agency will accept the appointment if selected, they should inform the unsuccessful agencies before confirming the decision with the successful one. This is usually the best way to ensure that the losers do not hear the bad news from someone other than the client.
As stated in the IPA’s guidelines, and a very important factor: the losing agencies must return all confidential material and information provided – in whatever format – and the client must not use any of the losing agencies’ pitch ideas or information provided during the process.
When it comes to the criteria for choosing the winner, Simion believes that clients should go for the agency that would bring the most added value to the brand/project etc, while Munteanu cites the importance of relevance. “The client needs to know how to make the difference between a strategic solution with a creative resolution (good ideas that are grounded in real life) and the creatives’ exercise of their imagination, without a strategy compass (the ‘wow’ ideas that are apparently timely executions, but which do not actually help the company grow on the long term.) Reality beats fiction every time. What do you do with the ideas you receive? Do you have the right context to make them grow?”
The PR side of things
The public relations (PR) market is a rather crowded, yet diverse one, in which agencies large and small, full-service and niche, have found their place and are growing their businesses and expanding the local profession’s expertise for the future. That’s why any company wanting to hire one of them would have to be knowledgeable about their characteristics beforehand and try to pick the one that best fits the need it has for communication services.
“There are two main things to cover when preparing a pitch: the process and the content. When it comes to the process, it would be in all parties’ best interest for the number of agencies invited to be kept at a reasonable number – three to maximum five would be ideal. This is usually enough for the companies that have identified correctly their need for communication services and researched the local market for the agencies that best fit these needs. In order for the companies to identify these agencies, anything on their websites, social media and mass media presence, as well as recommendations from fellow professionals would help a tremendous lot,” said Raluca Ene, managing director at Chapter 4 Romania.
The selected agencies should be given a comprehensive brief detailing at least business and communication objectives, other marketing communication activities developed by the company (so as to have the big picture over the entire communication activity spectrum), as well as requirements, KPIs, and estimated budget. “Criteria for choosing the winner are also compulsory for the clarity of the process. Not having any of this information transforms the offer preparation into a guessing game that would unjustifiably waste teams’ time and effort and not provide the expected results. Openness to clarifications, even a debrief meeting, would be great, in order to make sure the offer provided is a good fit, and also to see if there is good chemistry between the company’s and the agency’s team – this is an extremely important element that can actually make or break a pitch deal,” adds Ene.
Just like with advertising, balancing the time for offer preparation with the urgency of the contract is also very important. Agencies need time to research, gather resources and allow for creativity to become part of the process, and taking these aspects into consideration is highly appreciated. “Answering the offer and response time is also important – no matter the agency, when they win they’re celebrating, and when they are not chosen they can still gain a lot in terms of experience, and this is where the company’s feedback can contribute extensively to building better teams, better agencies and a much better industry,” concluded Ene.
The main DON’Ts
By Cristina Oncescu, head of strategy at pastel
- Don’t do it if you can still fix the situation with your current agency. A pitch is expensive and time-consuming for both the client and the agencies involved.
- Don’t fish for ideas and never award a winner.
- Don’t appropriate ideas from non-winning agencies.
- Don’t do it without a clear brief.
- Don’t do it without having clear evaluation criteria. Make sure the agencies are aware of them.
- Don’t do it without a set budget. It’s frustrating to receive great ideas that cannot be implemented because they cost way more than the available budget.
- Don’t invite more than three agencies, or four with the incumbent agency. Hold a thorough pre-selection process.
- Don’t take more time to announce the winner than it took the agencies to prepare the pitch proposals.
- Don’t avoid post-pitch meetings with non-winning agencies. Tell them why they didn’t win.
Questions marketers should ask themselves prior to the pitch:
Why do I want a pitch? (Often, marketing teams are searching for “out of the box ideas”, but when they receive these ideas, they realize that they lack the necessary resources to implement them, whether the problem is a staff shortage, long approval process, or low budget.)
Is a pitch the answer to the demands I have, or is there another way of obtaining the same result? (Changing the contractor is not always a necessary measure; sometimes hiring a business strategy consultant can solve many of the existing issues.)
Did the team I work with accomplish its objectives? What about me? Could I have done anything better? (Constant feedback is important regardless of the contractor you work with; usually agencies believe that they are doing a good job, then suddenly find out they’ve been invited to a pitch and fail to understand why.)
What are my internal resources when preparing a pitch? (Who is implementing the new ideas, deciding to add new positions, has top management approved the budgets that we’re prepared to invest? Usually, ideas developed in the pitch die right there, because there are no resources on the client’s side.)
How can I put to best use the potential of every member of my team, in order to share a unified vision? (Usually, one key member has the information, and the rest of the team merely assists the process, with no active participation or real decisions.)
What does my one-year marketing plan look like? (When your deadlines are getting tighter and tighter, it’s a sign of bad internal management.)
Does top management share the same vision as the marketing team? (The CEO doesn’t have time to attend pitch meetings. The marketing team is there, but does the CEO eventually decide for them, and what does this actually say about a company?)
Am I prepared to make the best out of every idea I receive? (Observe the good ideas regardless of who wins or loses, implement them, and eventually you will have thousands of Euros’ worth of work right in front of you, right?)
Could you be a partner for the agency and not just a client? (This means asking yourself what you have to offer, instead of demanding, how can you help them and what information you could prepare for them in order for the team to benefit from highly specific documents that could support their creative approach.)
By Mia Munteanu, client service director Marks