by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Since the coronavirus outbreak was first seen a couple of months ago in other countries, life has changed for ad agencies and clients. Everyone seems to have become more adept at video-conferencing, using all of the tech tools available to us now and seemingly without a break in productivity. How is this working in the agency pitch space?

I consulted electronically with several of my international colleagues a few weeks ago in the US and UK; this was before their respective lockdowns, while they were meant to be “social distancing” and hadn’t yet started to work remotely. The AAR in London, for example, only started to do so from last week Monday, 23 March 2020; our colleagues in Spain at Scopen went remote only on 15 March. AAR in New York started working remotely at about the same time, although it had stopped travelling only about a week before that — many of its pitches are across the US.


I asked them for some input on any tips they might have from their experiences so far with pitching in this new environment and I’ve added in a few of my own thoughts:

  • It’s difficult to generate chemistry when you’re not face-to-face as agencies and clients — so we have to look for other ways for agencies to make an impact
  • There’s less chance to get to know each other, so rather focus on capabilities and ways of working — as opposed to relying on presentation techniques
  • There may be ways of creating more “theatre” via video-conferencing, using all of the tools available in Zoom, Google HangOut and Microsoft Teams etc, which will add to the memorability of your agency session

Should a client be appointing an agency that it hasn’t actually met physically?

  • Most pitch processes are about 11–12 weeks long (via pitch consultants), starting off with the RFI and credentials aspects. Some pitches that have been in play already for a few weeks will ensure that clients have met the agencies physically at least once. Using tech for meetings after this will be OK.
  • A recent pitch process just completed for a large industrial client (there were three separate agency disciplines so three pitch processes in total) were all conducted as per normal ie face to face etc. However, since appointment, the majority of meetings are being conducted via video-conferencing/Microsoft Teams etc, including the collaboration meetings among the three agencies and the client
  • New pitches that are starting now and have to take place due to business imperatives may mean that the first few interactions might be tech-enabled but, towards the end of the process, I anticipate that a physical meeting will be possible. Is it the end of the world if they can’t meet? I don’t think so, as there will be so many other due diligences that may take place without meeting physically.


Managing the credentials process:

  • Printed-out specific credentials provided by agencies to clients are better-received and better-read, and agencies are able to specifically cater for the demands of the credentials brief that way
  • People read printed-out, beautifully bound documents with excitement and thoroughness, as opposed to flicking through a set of electronic credentials and content
  • These documents are kept throughout the process, are referred to continuously by the clients and their teams, and are important for pitch consultants to give feedback post-pitch to the competing agencies
  • Over the next few pitches, I’ll be breaking with tradition — innovating — and asking agencies to supply credentials in a different way (I’ve already tested out the theory with a few of our agency leaders and they are excited at the new possibilities, as are the clients)
  • Evaluating specific credentials is a very important part of the process. The learning process for the clients will be slightly modified using technology and will provide opportunities for their teams to learn and focus — always with the aim of finding the best-fit agency and eliminating those that don’t

More fun

I’m looking forward to the changes to these simple steps will make in processes and feel pretty sure at this stage that the pitch process won’t be hampered —it could be even more fun than normal as we all find our way through the hurdles placed in our lives by covid-19.

In the meantime, everyone, #stayhome #staysafe #flattenthecurve.

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Johanna McDowell and César VacchianoJohanna 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 10 masterclasses (up from eight) held in Johannesburg (now at GIBS). Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits; however, the April 2020 New York summit has been postponed (optimistically) to 21 June. She contributes the regular column, Masterclass Notes, which aims to help marketers and their agencies, to

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