The process of winning new business is often time-consuming, elaborate and political. Part of the reason why it’s this way is because the client makes it more difficult than necessary, not just for the prospective candidates but also for themselves.
To make the process clearer, more productive, and focused on generating the right outcome – the right match between client and agency – here are my suggestions based on 25 years of experience working on many different sides of the pitch process.
First, the client should determine the exact criteria they’ll use to select the right agency. Criteria tends to fall into six basic categories.
Content When implemented, would the agency’s proposal – specifically, its objectives, strategies and tactics – help the client meet both its business and communications objective? How measurable are the objectives?
Creativity Will the suggested ideas that bring the strategies and tactics to life be differentiating, unique and tailorable to the client’s messages? Can the agency talk about its creative process?
Chemistry Based on the people who present the proposal, does the client believe they could work seamlessly with the agency? What specific actions or tactics does the agency suggest to make the relationship most efficient and effective?
Reconnaissance Did the agency show they did their homework? Was their research more than a few minutes spent on Google?
Teamwork Did the agency team act like they work together efficiently?
Credentials Can the agency back-up and prove everything outlined in the proposal?
In my experience, this list is in priority order, with the top three more important than the last three. The only criteria that might be more or less important is Credentials. In many pitches, it’s often the first criteria clients use to create the initial list of prospective candidates, not necessarily as important after the pitch has been delivered. This criteria should only be on top when 1) an client is seeking an agency for crisis or issues management, and 2) when they want to hire the least risky agency option.
From the agency perspective, they should deliver exactly on whatever criteria the client outlines, if not summarise their presentation using these criteria as a guide.
Request for Proposal (RFP)
Include the criteria in the RFP. Clients should tell all potential candidates what the criteria are, why these criteria were chosen, and why the particular order. They should invite the agencies to ask questions about the criteria. At the close of the presentation, agencies should tell the client why their proposal has met each of the criteria.
Clients: Be clear about what you want. Based on the criteria, what do you really want the agency to demonstrate for you to make the best decision?
Be transparent about the competition. One of the worst things a client can do is to keep hidden the list of agencies from each other. In 25 years of being part of pitches from both the client and agency perspective, I’ve never found a good reason to be secretive and uncommunicative. First, the client acts like a poor partner before the pitch begins. Second, the more preferable option is to be open and transparent, if not encourage the agency to articulate why they would be a better choice than the competition. The agency’s answers will tell the client a lot about who they plan on hiring.
Use a scoring sheet so both client and agency can see the comparison. For the client, it’s best to document the process in case they have to justify internally which agency was selected. For the agency, they can improve by learning where they’re weak which, in turn, improves the pitching process in the future.
Don’t put more emphasis on the presentation than the conversation. The client and agency should not only talk to each other as much as possible, it should be the bulk of the time spent in the presentation. In my experience, very little of what an agency writes in a PowerPoint document to meet the client expectations is actually implemented. Both sides will make a much better decision by seeing the other side think on its feet. In particular, for the client, there’s where they will truly see the quality of the agency’s strategic and creative thinking – and frankly, that’s what they should be hiring in the first place.