by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Here are some top-line findings from recent research presented at the AdForum Worldwide Summit 2019 in Los Angeles.

During our week in Los Angeles in April 2019, AdForum hosted a workshop at which a number of agencies (that had presented during the week) shared their views with us on pitching. In addition, AAR Group, the partner of IAS, shared some insights gleaned from some recent research that it had done among about 40 CMOs in the UK.

Summary of findings

Here is a summary of the findings from that session:

What CMOs are looking at

  • Have we got the right operating model? Is our agency model the most-efficient and -effective
  • Customer experience (CX) has become the most-exciting battlefield, and brand preference can be achieved there
  • The proliferation of marketing technology (martech) suppliers — lots of confusion here


And what CMOs want from martech is the way in which data and tech can help predict sales. Agencies need to help clients navigate the martech companies and offerings.

  • Mature businesses are struggling with low growth: how do we overcome this?
  • Simplicity in how CMOs can engage with agencies: one set of people or one core advisor coordinating the agencies
  • Integrated strategy and integrated thinking but not necessarily for execution to take place only in one agency
  • The transformative power of a big creative idea
  • Agility and speed: agencies have had to change their attitudes and ways of working — be more responsive
  • Transparency and trust: mainly in the area of media and media spend but this is also affecting attitudes to other agency disciplines
  • Credibility: agencies to stay focused on what their capabilities really are — not to try and do everything
  • Who is my go-to person, my trusted advisor within the agency?
  • In a pitch, clients want to see agencies improving at all stages of the process, and the winning agency will be selected that way
  • The pitch team must be consistent from start to finish

And, from the agencies, what should they be looking for in a pitch or in a new relationship with a client?

Rules of engagement

  • Agencies should look closely at the client people during a pitch process: What sort of people are they — brave, conservative, cost conscious?
  • They need to look at the type of work that they can do for that client
  • And they should study the budget available


  • Agencies are creating work in a pitch that will win the pitch or win the client/brand
  • This work doesn’t necessarily work
  • It might not be work that will make the brand win in the market place


  • Agencies need to assess if they have the capacity to pitch and lose; they need to assess the “emotional cost” of participating in a pitch, the hope for a win that is part of the process
  • Clients (marketers) need to be educated about the amount of work that goes into a pitch
  • Speed-dating for smaller projects is happening more frequently and is less onerous than full-on pitching — and less costly.


Johanna McDowellJohanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is MD of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. Johanna is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. She also runs the IAS Marketers Masterclass, a programme consisting of masterclasses held in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits.

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