Ad Exec: Make pitch season count
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) Agency people love what they do. Many complain about it — the hours, indecisive clients and erratic creative teams — but, if you ask them whether they’d rather be doing something else, the answer is often an emphatic no. Their work is measured in an economy of love but, brutally, their worth is measured in rands and cents.
Advertising is a transient industry, which sees cyclical movement of people and client accounts, along with inevitable strategy changes which affect agency scope. The hard truth about paying the bills is that no one wants to be stuck in a stagnant business without new challenges (or the prospect of a pay rise), so agency leaders must work tirelessly to continually balance the retained-client portfolio against a necessary pursuit for new business.
Weigh up the opportunity
In my experience, there are generally two local pitch peaks during the year, usually around March/April and again in September/October. During these periods, agency resources are put under significant additional strain (few will carry extra capacity to focus on new business) as teams are assigned to multiple projects, both existing and proactive.
While met with excitement, any opportunity for growth must be carefully weighed up against the business strategy and existing commitments. Too often, agencies pursue wins at the expense of their current base. There is no point filling a leaky bucket as frustrated clients disappear themselves after ongoing agency ‘Houdini’ acts.
While the perception may be that marketers simply choose their prospective agencies, there is a reciprocal screening that happens on the agency side, the dynamics of which may differ depending upon the life stage of the agency, as well as heightened in pitch conditions. Relevant expertise, a perceived culture fit for the brand and product, professionalism of the client engagement, reputational impact, creative appetite and, of course, the financial benefits must all be considered against the likelihood of conversion.
The important part
Pitching is expensive and tiring; indeed, it is a major responsibility to take on. Despite this, it is the very lifeblood of any healthy agency, creating dynamism and new staff opportunities while enabling exposure to different ways of thinking and ‘doing’ — each client having cultivated their niche in the marketplace through a uniquely tailored approach.
Don’t get caught up in this excitement to the point that you pursue clients for the wrong reasons; don’t enter into pitches without understanding the playing field (number of agencies and transparency of the process for all); and don’t pander to the client strategy if you don’t believe in it.
Make it count
Pitch season(s) can make or break a year — or even an agency — so the discipline with which opportunities are assessed and pursued shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Thinking back, we can all remember moments in the boardroom when we performed at our brilliant best. Reflecting upon those times, it’s more than likely that the steps leading to them were handled with meticulous care and focus, liberating the presentation team with energetic confidence.
Evaluation, preparation and performance are your ‘controllables’, yet the reality is that some pitches we win and some we lose, regardless of our efforts. Each experience must sharpen the spear for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when you really, really, need to make it count.
With a decade of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of Publicis Machine. He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.
— MarkLives’ round-up of top ad and media industry news and opinion in your mailbox every three Monday and Thursday. Sign up here!