This is why a chemistry meeting is vital. The objective here is not to settle for a one-time thing, but to explore the possibility of a future with a prospective partner. It’s important to chat face-to-face to see if there’s a spark. If there isn’t, the chances are neither of you will want to go ahead anyway. It’s nothing personal.
A superficial relationship can slide towards a lack of collaboration, which in turn leads to unsatisfactory results and a breakdown in communication. The missing ingredients of mutual respect and chemistry mean the whole thing starts to taste bitter. Pretty soon, a conscious uncoupling brings things to a close and the next line up is briefed for a new job. And so the cycle continues. Is it just us who sees a problem here?
Second: do you think we get it? Do we understand the problem and can we respond with creative flair and originality to give a point of difference? In order to establish this, there needs to be a level playing field. If agencies are given briefs at different times, without a chance to schedule or prepare, how can companies expect to get a true sense of what they’re capable of? Similarly, if the brief later mutates into something only the more resource-rich agencies can take on, then the goal posts have quite clearly shifted. Most people agree that companies shouldn’t issue extra credit assignments out of the blue.
Of course, not all agencies are created equal and some will have the advantage of bigger teams and more resources. But, as a small agency ourselves, we also know there’s great strength in being flexible and nimble. A fair game lets the merits of each agency shine through, and ultimately means the client can make a more informed decision.
And finally, based on our track record, do you think we can deliver? The tense here is crucial: can we deliver, not have we delivered. A pitch is not where the final, polished brand is unveiled. For one reason or another companies have been led astray, expecting to see the final formula before the recipe has even been discussed – hardly fertile ground for collaboration.
Too commonplace is the delusion that tendering out to at least five different suitors will provide the best chance of finding Mr Right. But what a client actually gets is Mr Right Now. It may leave them with a capable service provider for a single project or launch, but they’re unlikely to find a companion with whom a stable, fruitful, ongoing relationship might grow.
Yet this is becoming more typical. According to the Design Business Association’s most recent What Clients Think report, nearly a third of clients now see their agencies as suppliers rather than partners.
Slinging a brief out to new agencies is not the answer. This only highlights a lack of confidence in what a company wants and suggests they never valued the original agencies in the first place. Those still in the running are dragged through a painful decision process that has now become more convoluted. Who stands to benefit from any of this?
A pitch brief should be a direction to interpretation, not an exposition – this is where clients and agencies alike are getting it wrong. In fact, it often pays to derail the pitch. According to the DBA report, 68 per cent of winning presentations consciously go against the brief in some way. The lesson from this is that agencies should always be looking to poke holes and reveal a better path if we can, and clients should be willing to accept wriggle room in order to get the best from their partners (we recently learned this the hard way, narrowly losing to an agency who spied an opportunity to leverage themselves against us).
A pitch is not something undertaken lightly, and we believe agencies are well within their rights to ask for a token fee. Won or lost, putting an effective pitch together consumes huge amounts of otherwise billable studio resource, and doing it for free inevitably leads to higher sector-wide costs in an attempt to recoup lost revenue.
“Realistically, nothing’s going to change overnight. We know that. But a rising tide does lift all ships, and if agencies are willing to make small changes to how they respond to tenders then perhaps, bit by bit, the pitching process will improve.”
And it’s not just creatives who stand to gain here. Focusing efforts on the long-term ultimately means companies spend less time finding and re-finding partners. Consequently, projects run more efficiently and marketing teams can crack on without distraction.
Even more importantly, it breeds a culture of reciprocated respect, where companies value proper relationships and agencies are fairly judged and remunerated for their efforts (which would likely translate into lower overall fees across the sector).
Transparency is a word big companies often shy away from, but they’ll get a much better experience if they’re candid with agencies – and better results too. When clients embrace collaboration we feel we’re working with them, not just playing show and tell ‘til we get it right. The client becomes part of a creatively rewarding process and the end product is something to cherish.
Of course, nothing will alter the fact that sometimes we just have to hold up our hands and admit we fell short. Neither are we saying there’s anything wrong with a little bit of flirting (we’ve batted a few eyelashes in our time). All we’re suggesting is agencies and clients should get know each other first. That way, speaking frankly about any rocky patches will be less likely to end in bitterness. Sprinting for 3rd base right off the bat rarely pays off in the long run.