The PRCA is currently advertising for one of its upcoming courses – ‘pitching to win new business’ – and its opening line on the advert for said course is “everyone loves working on new business”.
But does everyone really love volunteering for and then leading a response to an RFP when it lands? Sure, we all love winning new business and there is something to be said about the buzz that’s created from developing and then showcasing ideas you’re proud of. But the hours devoted to new business don’t always translate to the (typically) one hour you are given to pitch in the room.
The wonderful challenge for our industry is that, as a now mature older sibling, it must behave far more professionally than it might have done 10 or even 20 years ago. More and more is expected from our responses to briefs and thankfully, for the most part, the briefs we are invited to respond to are, equally, of a higher calibre. And yet, as clients have become better able to articulate their wishes, and agencies continue to impress with their strategic and creative thinking the showcase mechanism seems to be stuck in a rut.
That’s not to say pitching doesn’t add any value. Some of the best pitches I have had the pleasure of being involved in are those that had a clear brief, an agreed budget (shared upfront) a more refined short-list of agencies competing and transparency on all sides. It also helps when the pitch process is extended to include a chemistry meeting – more of this below – and an opportunity for honest feedback afterwards. That is of course labour intensive for all parties and, in many cases, might not be necessary to find the right partner.
But with the number of collective hours (both agency and client side) that go into preparing and responding to briefs, perhaps a different mechanism that allows a meeting of minds and proper stress testing on both sides is needed?
Chemistry meetings can, to my mind, offer a perfect alternative, or at least a solid starting point. Not only do they enable both parties to gauge whether there is any mutual merit in moving forward, they are also less formal. Much as you wouldn’t go from DM’ing to dinner, I don’t think agencies should move from an emailed RFP to a formal pitch process. I think there needs to be coffee!
If the coffee works, and if the creds excite enough, then why not go straight to a stakeholder meeting where both parties can start to test if there is a basis for a working relationship? From a client’s perspective too there must surely be an upside to having a smaller number of agencies on the short-list? Or perhaps, given the growing popularity of project-based campaigns, agencies could offer a ‘try-before-you-buy’.
Many of our best (and indeed longest) client relationships have come from chemistry meetings where we have discussed what is needed, how we might be able to support, and sometimes a showcase of what we can do, rather than a full pitch. After all, that’s what this is all about – finding the right agency partner to help you fulfil long-term business objectives.
Written by Emma Evans, PR director at marketing agency Teamspirit
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