When it comes to pitching, what do clients expect from agencies and what do agencies expect from clients?

This was the subject of last Thursday’s IPA Client-Agency Swap Shop event, where three of the UK’s top marketers posed as agency executives, whilst two of the UK’s top agency CEOs were put in the shoes of the client. Quite simply, it was an evening set for ‘get your own back’, ‘see how we feel’ and pure ‘admiration and appreciation for what the other side has to contend with’.

Hosted by IPA Director General, Paul Bainsfair, the client panel (including Simon Tuckey, Commercial Director, British Basketball; Ali Jones, Brand Director, M&S; and David Sinfield, Marketing Director, Majestic Wines), and the agency panel, (including Chris Macdonald, McCann London and Steve Hatch, CEO, MEC) were set questions by the esteemed Jeremy Bullmore who really put them through their paces to find out some key nuggets…

1) If you’re not on a pitch long list and you don’t know the client, what do you do? (Question posed to client panel as if they were agencies…)

There were suggestions of Linkedin and Google searches with a quote from Simon Tuckey that “90% of positions are filled because somebody knows somebody”. It’s all about connections. Use them. This could even be talking to someone you and the client mutually know and ask your contact to make that introduction to the prospect.

2) Do I put my new business A team in the pitch room vs the team who would actually work on the business? (Question posted to agency panel as if they were clients…)

A great suggestion came from Chris MacDonald of putting in place a system of feedback over the first 3-6 months. If the agency aren’t delivering on their promises, you have at least agreed from the outset on your client expectations. The agency needs to meet these, or they’re out. Firm, but fair.

Steve’s approach was focused more on references. Not just a generic reference from other clients but actually “what is it like to go on a journey with these people?”

Both responses equally plausible and worth noting!

3) Do you mind your agency account teams working on other business in addition to yours? (Question posed to clients as if they were agencies)

Some rather enlightening answers came for this for those in agencies who work on an account. Ali from M&S firmly supports her agency account teams working on pieces of business in addition to her own: “You want different things over the account life cycle.”

Both Ali and Simon would in fact “be concerned if people weren’t experiencing working on other accounts”. Good for us to know. If only all clients felt the same way.

One phrase that came up regularly from our panel, but was first uttered by Simon: “suck it up”. Sometimes you just need to accept a situation and move on if you can’t do anything about it. Again, firm but fair.

4) How do you prove the ROI on social media? (Question posed to agency panel)

Some top tips on this hot topic from Steve at media agency, MEC, on how to approach the client:

1. start with flattery and take the client for a spot of lunch
2. present them with work that you admire (but not from the same category as your client)
3. do a bit of buzz monitoring
4. don’t call it ‘Social Media’, in fact call it a ‘Customer Retention Strategy’
5. don’t start with media, start with the idea!

Whilst Chris agreed with this strategy, he puts it quite simply: “actually use the work”.

Simon chipped in with his ‘actual’ client hat on and suggested “give them a sense of what’s quantifiably achievable”.

5) Have you ever been told you’re not strategic enough in your pitch despite the client prospect loving your work? (Question posed to client panel)

David from Majestic Wines, believes that as an agency “you’ve got to fight really hard to get on the list…you’ve got to do something quite bold and exciting.” It’s all about catching the client’s attention and getting a meeting in the diary with the client to discuss their concerns in more detail. You need to get under the skin of it.

Ali adds “you need to understand what strategy the client wants, for example is it actually the creative idea the client wants?” A good piece of advice “look at who else is on the list to see how strategic the competition is!”

6) The pitching Marketing Director and the Procurement Officer have equal say in the agency appointment; however, the Marketing Director favours the agency that isn’t necessarily the most ‘cost efficient’. What do you decide to do? (Question posed to agencies as if they were clients…)

The dreaded ‘P’ word – Procurement…

It seemed that both Chris and Steve’s feelings on the matter mirrored our ‘actual’ client panel’s opinion: procurement and fees should be negotiated AFTER an agency has presented the strategic and creative pitch. That way, the client’s marketing team ensures they appoint the agency who can best service their needs.

As Ali put it “it’s the client’s responsibility to agree with procurement on their involvement at the beginning of the process.” And Simon, “the Marketing Director is making the decision not procurement…it’s important to fully deliver the best marketing.”

7) Have you ever had to let a slightly upstart young account exec go, to find 10 years down the line they are now not only client-side but Marketing Director for a big FMCG company which has just come up for pitch? As the agency wanting to get on that pitch list, what do you do? (Question posed to clients as if they were agencies…)

On the whole, this was met with a resounding – turn a negative into a positive. Remember, that upstart has now become a successful client in a relatively short space of time. Getting rid of them has done them some good. So, congratulate them (obviously without sounding condescending) and test the water. See if they would be willing to give you a chance now the shoe is on the other foot. As David said “say ‘you’ve done well’ and take it from there…”

Moral of the story, as put by Simon, is “make sure you always fire someone well.” After all, you never know how or when your paths might cross again.

8 ) Team vs Strategy vs Creative – what matters most?
This time, there wasn’t such a unified decision across the panel. There were varying opinions on what is important when judging a pitch scenario. What they could agree on though was that it is a heart vs head decision. As Ali put it “I’ve always felt it”. So it needs to be the right mix of all three to ensure you have faith in the whole ‘package’.

9) This time, as an agency, you have been invited to celebrate 10 years of working with your client when an important pitch meeting is scheduled for that same day. What do you do?
This final question of the evening resulted in some interesting responses. Some options included:
– throw money at it and hire a helicopter
– yes, throw money at it but suggest a big day out paid for by the agency to celebrate the 10 years so you can make the pitch
– be honest with your existing client, they will understand (or will they?)

Summing up:
The main theme that rang true throughout the evening is relationships. If you have a good one it eases the pain in those difficult moments. But, just because you have a good relationship doesn’t mean you can get away with anything. So, use it wisely!

In the words of the panel, if you can’t achieve the results you’re after – “suck it up!”

Ken Mulligan
Head of New Business
EuroRSCG London

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