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Marketing agency pitch etiquette

16 Oct Marketing agency pitch etiquette

Previously, I wrote an ebook called ‘Life’s a Pitch’, which is on this site – as well on the digital marketing information sharing site, smartinsights.com. Whilst not wishing to repeat my earlier thoughts on this subject, a recent incident made me consider agency pitch etiquette in addition to pitch process.

In July, we were invited to a TV advertising agency pitch for a very well known national network of ambulance-chasers. We were up against 2 major northern agencies (1 in Manc and the other in Brum). It was a good prospect and thus we were delighted to be invited to pitch.

We presented our creative to the owners of the firm (a father and son) at the end of July. At the end of the pitch, our hosts informed us that the other agencies were due to pitch within the forthcoming 5-week period and therefore, regrettably, we’d be waiting until then to hear the outcome.

6 weeks on and I made the traditional courtesy call to the MD of the business and ended up leaving him a message. A few days after, when I’d heard nothing, I sentAgency Pitch Etiquette him an email. A week later (again, nothing), I did the same – all very calm, all very courteous – and certainly without a modicum of desperation. In the following weeks, I repeated the process – never receiving any acknowledgement.

So on Friday, I called the MD’s direct line and to my surprise, he answered. The moment he realised it was me, he found himself rather lost for words, clearly uncomfortable as he stammered and told me they’d appointed one of our competitors. He (rather unconvincingly) fibbed about it being a very recent decision etc. I bit my lip; thanked him for the opportunity and that was the end of the call.

We win pitches and we lose them; it’s the nature of the beast. There can be no room for sour grapes and we know to accept the rough with the smooth and cope with the expected level of disappointment if we are unsuccessful. However, one does expect a level of professionalism and courtesy – and that each party follows some level of etiquette. So here are the things to keep in mind when running an agency pitch:

6 Points on Marketing Agency Pitch Etiquette:

  1. Be courteous to all of the agencies you invite to pitch. If they ask additional questions in advance of the pitch, consider that as a good thing. Plenty of creative agencies will simply take the written brief you’ve provided (assuming you’ve provided one), then respond without questioning. Questioning is good and should not be viewed as an irritation;
  2. Provide a written brief! There’s a clear link between clients being disappointed with the results of a pitch and the brief provided (“shit in, shit out” is the more crude expression, I believe). If you haven’t provided a structured brief, what else would you expect? Unless an objective of your pitch is to challenge creative agencies by seeing how they think on their feet (rather than working to a structured brief), then providing the same brief to all parties involved, will reduce your potential for disappointment come the day of the beauty parade. It’s also fair;
  3. Don’t invite too many agencies. An agency pitch should ideally have between 3-5 prospective agencies (more likely the former). Any more implies a lack of focus; notwithstanding the veritable time and financial resource required by all parties. Don’t ever feel as though you should invite additional agencies to ‘fill a space’, as is often the case. If you don’t genuinely rate them, do not invite them. Simple;
  4. During the pitch process, give every agency equal opportunities. Give them the same amount of time (it should be reasonable time. Telling an agency they have 45 minutes to present strategy plus a selection of executions/ideas is hardly polite or fair). If an agency has spent time, effort and resource on producing creative and strategic ideas for your consideration (on average, for a TV advertising pitch, we would likely spend 1-2 weeks, spending something in the region of £20k-£30k in time/visuals), the least you can do is give the agency a couple of hours of your time to meet with them and hear their ideas;
  5. After the pitch, try your best to review and select at your earliest convenience. Consider the fact that you likely gave your agencies 2-4 weeks to respond to your brief (which they did eagerly). Consider that they’ll be keen to learn whether they’ve been successful;
  6. Your first call may well be to the winning agency, whom you will doubtless surprise and delight with the fantastic news. You’ll exuberantly compliment each other and likely arrange a follow-up meeting over drinks or dinner, to discuss how you’d like to work together and how best to approach the project. Once that call’s over, don’t forget the other agencies. Call them in the same moment. Let them down with courtesy. Remember, the marketing agency industry is as small a world as yours. Agencies talk – especially when they’ve won an account. The last thing any agency wants is to hear through another (winning) agency that they’ve lost a pitch.

Teaching Grandma? If that’s the case, then ace. Last week, I learned that this stuff isn’t simple commonsense. Hence me taking the time to share these thoughts.

In summary, it’s all about courtesy. Can’t recall whether it was Jesus or one of his 12, who was quoted as having said: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you”. I’m not religious, but I’m a big fan of manners. After all, without them, business can be absolutely miserable.

Traditional and digital agency integration: adapt or die

1 Oct

I had a beer and chat with a specialist consultant, who is doing phenomenally well working with agencies, helping them integrate digital agency expertise into what we’d know as traditional marketing disciplinary departments (advertising, PR etc). We spent a great deal of our time together discussing the various pitfalls associated with this issue – and the nuances surrounding traditional and digital agency integration.

The conversation went along the lines of me expressing huge surprise that the agencies we discussed (some of them very large indeed) were having such a tough time properly integrating their traditional and digital creative propositions. In addition, my drinking partner pointed out that a lot more agencies are fearful of this issue than people in our industry are led to believe. Surprised? I was. To be clear, what he meant by this was that a great deal of agencies offering integrated traditional/digital services, are either doing it wrong or making it up as they go along (and subsequently struggling).

I freely admit that I/we had to take my own agency back to school for some serious re-education since setting up in late 2010. Specifically, this was in the areas of social commerce, inbound and content marketing. Whilst the agency has grown from strength-to-strength in terms of providing traditional creative solutions for brands, I’ve had to open my mind to the new possibilities available via the ever-changing landscape of digital (online) marketing and learn how best to offer an integrated online/offline portfolio of products to our clients. From a viewpoint that we needed to redesign a product offering that integrated our creative output with modern inbound marketing concepts.

I’m of the opinion that as long as agencies refer to their ‘online’ and ‘offline’ service lines as completely separate propositions and disciplines, and as long as they have teams for each, who don’t fully understand each others’ skill-sets, they put themselves in grave danger of being overtaken by the following:

  1. Traditional agencies that have not knee-jerkingly repositioned themselves as a ‘digital creative agency’, but have adapted their already strong creative output to include digital channels;
  2. Active and entrepreneurial digital agencies, whose entire business models have been built on rapid evolution and adaptability – thus they are well-placed to simply enhance their own propositions by employing teams of flexible brand creatives who can effectively then work within digital media channels.
Clearly, the above has already happened on a grand scale. Clearly it will continue to happen. Clearly I’ve already done it, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog. However, many agencies still haven’t and I’m led to believe that many larger agencies are struggling with it, due to their size and cultures (the old adage about turning oil tankers being at the forefront of my mind).
From my perspective, the interesting question is which agency is better placed to do this? Let’s look at the issues surrounding each:

Your traditional agency…

  • Likely has a management and strategy team with years of experience in producing traditional above-the-line creative (TV, press, outdoor, DM etc);
  • Has a creative team with core skills set around traditional advertising;
  • Has an account management team similar to the above (with less industry experience);
  • More than likely has a Creative Director over 35, who doesn’t have a social media account and spends less than 20 mins online per day;
  • Has little understanding of new, digital media channels, and/or is very much from an old-school interruptive advertising background (i.e. used to advertising at people). With that in mind, they might stretch to producing online display ads…

 

Your digital agency…

  • Likely has a management and strategy team, the majority of which are all under 40 – either an entire career (of under 10 years) in digital (granted, there are also be plenty of those former traditional marketers who saw the opportunity early);
  • Has two teams; one made up of digital designers, the other made up of developers/coders;
  • More than likely has a Creative Director under 35 and is less likely to be from an advertising/campaign creation background;
  • Probably has a team with similar skills – none of which are campaign creators or brand thinkers. More likely designers and developers.

Sweeping generalisations? Before you shoot me, yes of course I’m generalising and I know there are exceptions to the aforementioned. However…

So which agency is better placed to get ahead? Traditional agencies ‘dabbling’ at digital, or digital agencies that are developing creatively? I have to say it’s the latter. I believe that digital agencies, by their (youthful) nature, are infinitely more agile. I also believe they have the upper hand due to the fact their core skill set includes digital marketing futurology. In addition, the majority of decent digital agencies are in the throws of developing their own in-house creative teams.

But what of the digital agency lacking in creative culture? Beware indeed. As much as there are traditional agencies unprepared for the kind of integration I’ve mentioned; digital agencies who aren’t recruiting serious campaign creative talent, or ensuring they’ve got an accessible creative culture, will undoubtedly experience the same issues and potential failure. One thing is for sure: we are bobbing along in a sea of change, and whenever change comes into play for businesses, there’s an argument to say we must either adapt, or die.

Running a marketing agency pitch

18 Nov

Life’s a pitch

I’ve spent the majority of my career aiming to be invited to join agency pitch lists. In addition, I’ve been responsible for managing the pitch process, from the point of meeting prospective clients, to extracting all the information needed and producing the pitch brief; to presenting the agency pitch alongside colleagues. I’ve done countless pitches, covering a wide selection of brands, industries, and marketing disciplines.  With all this in mind, I decided to write a short ebook guide for those brand owners and marketers who might like an agency-side view of how best to manage an agency pitch. The first part of which has been published on the digital marketing portal, Smartinsights.com (the remaining parts will follow in the coming months). It’s a comprehensive guide to the entire agency pitch process – from agency selection, to writing a decent brief, to selecting the right agency.  I hope you find it useful.  Download here…

https://martinotoole.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/marketing-agency-pitch-cover.jpg

Writing a decent creative brief

1 Nov

writing a decent creative brief Most people find writing a creative brief immensely difficult and more often than not, people make a bad job of it. This is designed to be helpful advice for all, regardless of whether you’re new to writing briefs or you’ve been in the industry for years. I’ve spent years writing briefs. Moreover, in my various business development roles, I’ve received and written a vast amount of potential client/agency pitch briefs.  In such instances, the brief has been the key to getting it right and winning the business. Whilst it’s important for agency-side parties to be usefully inquisitive, the work you receive will be a reasonable reflection of the brief you provide in the first place (i.e. get the brief wrong and the work presented will likely be rubbish). So with that in mind, here’s a simple guide to what that brief should consist of. The majority of this content is media/channel-neutral. It’s a creative brief outline – which will work through the line.

1. Purpose of brief (‘so what’s occurring?’)

Whether for an agency pitch, or an existing client, this section always needs to be an outline of the business objectives and a succinct introduction to the brand, its sector, and the product/service to be launched/repositioned/put online/immortalised in advertising etc. You’ll know pretty much all there is to know about your brand and your sector; therefore there is often a temptation to provide far too much information.  Keep it simple; give a flavour, but try not to offload piles and piles of information if it is not relevant to the project in hand. Remember that the agency will ask questions, which you would hope, will be good questions. If they do not, take note. Their ability to listen is as important as their ability to create.

2. Insights (‘What should we ask ourselves to get this right’?)

Assuming you’re more interested in one of the agencies coming back with the right work rather than putting them to the test, it’s always a good idea to drop in a couple of insightful questions around the problem.  For example: “How do we hook our potential consumer, using a balance of emotive and technical messages – conveying a balance of brand personality and depth of expertise?” These questions are obviously rhetorical, but can help drive the agencies’ approach far better.

3. Target audience (‘so who wants to know?’)

Tip: “Everyone” is not an insightful brief of the target market! Obviously this can be socio-demographic information, but if you think a little deeper, you might provide an introduction to a couple of personas.  For example: Tell the agency a story about ‘Claire, the girl next door’; talk about where she lives/her likes/dislikes/where she shops/what sites she’s likely browsing. Build a story regarding Claire – bring her to life.  It’s a far more interesting way to describe your target market – again, offering the opportunity for more insightful consideration.

4. Competition (‘who else is doing this?’)

Not a difficult area of the brief.  List your top competitors and their web addresses.  Leave the agencies to do the rest.  It’s their job to decide how relevant the competitors’ marketing strategy/tactics are.  However, DO provide a concise indication of your understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of what your competitors are up to.  Also, if you like something they’re doing – say.  Your competitors are allowed to be great at what they do, after all…

5. The USP (‘what’s the single most important thing we want the customer to know?’)

Ah, the USP…  This is the bit where most people get it wrong – agencies included.  Why?  For many reasons.  1. Because people tend to list more than one proposition (even though we’re looking for the unique point; 2. Because it’s not all that easy to sum absolutely all of the features and benefits of your brand/product/service into one line.  Difficult, but not impossible…  This is arguably the most important section of the brief.  If you are ambiguous at this stage, don’t be surprised if indecisive work is presented back to you.  Get it right, and see the difference.

6. Reinforcing the USP (‘can we actually support/prove that?’)

Bearing in mind that the USP information should be short and sweet, this is the area where you can expand and rationalise your thoughts.  Again, keep it simple; use bullet-points, all of which support your thinking.  Don’t ramble; don’t repeat yourself.  Furthermore, don’t under-estimate the importance of this are of the brief (as people often do).

7. Look, feel, tone of voice (‘How should it look and what should it sound like?’)

You’ll likely already have a set of brand guidelines or brand bible.  If they’re any good, they’ll contain this information.  Copy the more salient points and stipulations.  Regardless, the key here is to give some descriptors relating to how your brand/product/service feels – how it looks – how it exists.  Don’t be afraid of incorporating a little passion here – after all, it’s your brand!!!

8. Mandatory inclusions & exclusions (‘what must be in, what needs to be out?’)

It’s always helpful to nail down a bullet-point list of dos & don’ts, to save time.  If you know full well that a certain line of messaging does not work when it comes to your brand, mention it.  If the CEO’s wife hates yellow (sighs), put it in the brief!  This is all about making the whole process more efficient. Fee free to download a template here: BRIEF TEMPLATE.

10 ways to avoid being a marketing agency plonker

27 Sep

 “The intimacy and local focus of the programme will maximise the tangible application of content – but this needs to be translated into a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”
  1. Avoid spending 45 minutes of your agency pitch, telling clients all about the brief. Stating the obvious, they wrote it.
  2. There’s a really good reason why you have 2 ears and only 1 mouth. You might want to think about proportionate use in your next client meeting.
  3. Avoid using multiple slide presentations to post-rationalise a creative route or strategy. Back-story narration doesn’t come as standard with most marketing messages.
  4. When you know the ideas you’re presenting are shit, do yourself a favour and cancel the meeting. If it’s one of those rare and unfortunate occasions where you’re presenting work you haven’t even seen – avoid blagging and come clean with the client. They may be polite and appear not to have noticed this, but trust me they have – and they think you’re a knob.
  5. When you know the ideas you’re presenting are shit, it’s time to leave the creative agency.
  6. Writing things like “The intimacy and local focus of the programme will maximise the tangible application of content – but this needs to be translated into a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts” has never and will never make any sense whatsoever. Probably best not to write that in a proposal.
  7. Radical idea: How about tackling a brief based on the clients’ business problem, rather than shoehorning an idea into one of the few marketing channels you understand..?
  8. Learn about your clients’ businesses – and learn about their industries. No mate, I mean REALLY learn. You telling your clients key stuff they didn’t know about their businesses or industries is positioning yourself as invaluable (and interested).
  9. As incredible as it is to comprehend, you do not know EVERYTHING. Accept this and be honest about it, because your clients (and prospective clients) will know it – and your credibility will cease to exist very quickly indeed (see the ‘knob’ comment in point 4).
  10. Try like hell never to become complacent. Always up your creative game and never take your relationship with your clients for granted. I know this and that’s why I’m able to court them right now.
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