In marketing communications, it’s great relationships that deliver great work. It’s the reason that The Talent Business’ global pitch consultancy, Global Agency Search, does not partner brand owners who are determined to conduct creative pitches. These are invariably a waste of everybody’s time (and huge amounts of money). They’re predicated on the flawed belief that creative pitches can deliver creative solutions. They don’t.
Picture the scene. The client team has sat through lengthy creative presentations from the three shortlisted agencies. This is the culmination of months of work, countless tissue meetings and thousands of man hours. The client team retires after the final presentation to deliberate. Before not too long it becomes clear that the agency the client team have grown to like the least has produced the idea that they, the client team, like the best. It also becomes clear that during this process the client team have fallen in love with the agency that has presented the work they like the least. The client team is bitterly disappointed and this is a tricky one to resolve. It’s at this point that the most junior member of the client team asks why they don’t just take the idea they like the best and give it to the agency team that they have grown to love. The CMO explains that this isn’t an option. After much soul searching, the client decides to hire the agency that has produced the idea that they like, the idea subsequently fails in research and the research also reveals a flaw in the thinking that prompts a wholesale strategic review. In the meantime, the client team have saddled themselves with the agency relationship they least wanted by the end of the pitch. And not surprisingly, this relationship fails to deliver great work. Whilst many creative pitches do take initial work through research before appointing a winner, the reality is that for one reason or another, the vast majority of creative work produced for pitches never runs.
Core competencies for agencies (global or local) are not difficult to assess. This can be done through a comprehensive mapping exercise, intelligent assessments by advisors who really know the talent, the offerings and the capabilities in the space, and through anonymous RFI’s that can clarify a specific capability or KPI. You don’t need a pitch process to verify these. Ultimately, the role of the pitch process is to enable a client to make the best informed decision in order to secure a game changing agency partner. In order to do this, the process needs to explore candidate agencies’ relationships with their existing clients and the conditions in which these agencies have done their best work. This might mean looking at the way in which other clients structure their marketing functions and, more specifically, the leadership of the marketing communications functions in the client organizations whose work they most respect. Understanding how an agency has delivered game changing work is as much to do with understanding its clients as it is to do with understanding the agency.
We do believe in strategic pitches (once core competencies have been assessed and verified). These are a good way of testing how agency teams think and work together. A strategic process can stress test an agency’s grasp of a client’s business and showcase an agency’s rigor, innovation and creativity in tackling a strategic problem. By its very nature, this process will test agency-client chemistry, and as pitch consultants, we can ensure that it’s also an opportunity to explore, as transparently as possible, each other’s values and ambitions. These will need to be aligned for a great relationship and it will be that great relationship that will deliver great work.