PRmoment founder Ben Smith recently caught up with Oracle’s VP PR and communications JAPAC and EMEA Chris Talago to get a view on how the pitch process works from the client side of things. An agency perspective is outlined in our Good Pitch article.
Ben Smith: Does Oracle have a set process to go through when looking for an agency? Is there a formalised sequence of steps?
Chris Talago: Yes we do.
- Firstly, all the interested parties meet internally – so the various PR leads, procurement, marketing teams would sit around the table and define what we need.
- The PR team and the procurement team would then work together to put the RFP together. There are some standard sections in there and there are some specific sections in terms of whether we are looking at a specific market or a specific role. Wherever possible we try to highlight a number of the key selection criteria.
- We would go out to a long list to ask for creds and if the agencies have any conflicts.
- As part of the RFP process we also offer two sets of questioning. There is one set of questioning where we offer each agency one hour in a private call to ask whatever they want. That is just us and the individual agency. In addition they are also allowed to ask written questions. The difference is that the written questions, regardless of who asked it, we publish it and it goes to all of the agencies.
- The next stage is to go out and pick the suitable agencies. Usually the long list would be between five to eight agencies to ask for creds. Typically at this stage there would be no meeting involved unless we don’t know the agency. If we don’t know the agency and we’re going on a referral or a recommendation we’d get them in to get more of an understanding about what they do and how they do it.
- Once we’ve completed the creds stage we would pick three or four agencies for the pitch. Typically it’s three but if we’re struggling to get what we want it might be four. We would never ask more than four agencies to pitch.
- For the final pitch shoot-off we would get as many of the internal stakeholders around the table as possible. It would typically include some scenario as well as a creative test.
- From there we would select and then go into terms and contract negotiations and a bit more details.
BS: What are the things that tend to win it?
- Having a genuine interest and passion for the account and the business. Some of this sounds relatively straightforward, but a lot of it is doing basic things really well. So demonstrating an understanding for our business, who we compete with and what some of the issues might be.
- Demonstrating passion and attention to detail in your submission. It’s amazing how many times I’ve seen spelling errors, or spelling people’s names wrong, distribution incorrect. Just sloppy stuff that makes you think if this is what they are like on a pitch submission, what are they going to be like when they are under pressure and have 17 press releases to get out the door?
- Demonstrating knowledge of the range of communication tools that they have at their disposal – what do they do with video, what they do with social – and how does it all integrate together?
- Having a team of people on the pitch team as near to the account team as possible. We’ve had our fingers burnt on that a few times. We want to know (we’re going to get) the pitch team not the great and the good that we’re never going to see again. The choice of agency is one thing, but it comes down to the individuals from that agency who are going to be working on that account. What is the quality of those people?
BS: In terms of social, video and integration expertise, what are the proof points on that? Is it just previous work credentials? How do you make that decision that I actually believe you can do it?
CT: Essentially it’s proof of work and previous clients.
BS: So that comes at the credentials stage really? Once you get to the pitch you are trusting that they can do what they say?
CT: Yes, we would have weeded out those who we don’t think have the capability by the pitch stage. By the time we get to the final three we’re pretty certain that those agencies can do what we need them to do. Or if they can’t we’re know what that is and that is one of the compromises that we are prepared to make in the final decision.
BS: So they might not be great at one element but they are so good at something else you are prepared to compromise?
CT: Yes, or you just get another agency to do that element. To some extent it depends on your prioritisation of tasks. There is some of the stuff that we ask agencies to do that is pretty standard and takes up about 40% of our time together. If they can’t do that then we are not going to work together. If they can do that but they can’t do something that takes up 5% of our time together – OK we can have a discussion about how we cover that gap, or help them build up their own capability.
BS: What are the most important factors in the decision?
CT: It’s a thorough understanding of our audience and a thorough understanding of what we need to do and the creativity that comes out of that needs to be applied creativity. It must be routed in what the audience want and the direction we need the brand to be moving.
BS: And finally what are the top five things that agencies get wrong in the pitch process?
- Too generic. We could be any client. They have just whacked something together and it’s pretty obvious they have just whacked something together. Predominantly this happens at the credentials stage and that would be one of the things that we would say “thanks for playing, but no need to trouble you anymore.”
- Be true to what you do and do it well. It’s what WE’s Alan Vandermolen calls “Acute agency identity disorder.” What I mean by that is that I’m OK if you can do tasks a, b and c but not d and f. Just be honest about that and tell me how you will overcome it. What comes across as far less credible is when they say they can do everything.
- Not having a root to your pitch in data. What does the measurement say? What does your audience insight say? What research have you done? How does that root itself in your creative approach? Because without that – it’s just your opinion.
- Not having a good approach to measurement. How are you going to deliver success and how will you know when you get there.
- Passion and energy. That feeling of “I want to work with these people.” I can trust these people; they will move heaven and earth to make it happen. The agency has to have intelligence that is within the pitch, but there is no point having the brains without great execution.
BS: What is the role of procurement? A few years ago there were stories of comms directors working for agencies they didn’t want to work worth because of a reverse auction.
CT: For us they (procurement) are a wonderful partner. The PR team drive the process, but the procurement team help us a huge amount. They do the contractual negotiations and the process definition. There are no reverse auctions or anything like that. For Oracle at least there is a very good understanding that what we’re buying isn’t widgets – we’re buying value. We have specialists who look at the agency selection. They are able to offer great advice because they go around the world working on marketing agency creative pitches and so they are able to bring best practice from one field into another. For me it has nothing but a positive experience. When I was agency side I have been privy to some real nightmare experiences. There was one example when we were asked to take part in a reverse auction and we refused to take part. So there are a few brands out there that don’t get the value that procurement can add.
BS: On the pricing negotiation, how does it work, what is the input of procurement?
CT: The process is collaborative. For example, pricing is one of the elements of the RFP and when that comes in the procurement guys would give us an assessment. So for example, this agency is priced like this, here is the pecking order and here is where we see value here. If you pick this agency there is potential for a volume discount, if you pick this one here is a different approach we might take.
As I say it’s far more of a consultation. They would never say don’t pick that agency purely on price. They might give advice on the best way to negotiate, they might do some of that negotiation themselves but they would not tell us to make an agency decision on the basis of price.
I have never felt like I couldn’t have the agency that I wanted.
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