18 Feb, 2020

Ten Tips on a Successful Pitch Process

Firstly, this is just ten initial tips on managing your pitching process for a new agency. We probably could have written a fair few more points, but it’s important its ‘your’ pitch process – do it your way, to get the results that suit you. We just want to help you avoid some pitfalls and some sharks you might come across.
These points aren’t designed to guarantee we win your work if we’re invited to pitch; indeed, if you follow them it might unearth that we’re not right for you. That’s ok. We’re not going to lie and say we’re right for everybody and it means your pitch process is working!

After more than ten years of working in the agency world in various client facing roles, I’ve put together this list based on some of the best (and worst) pitch processes I’ve seen, to help you get a better end result.
  1. If you can avoid it, don’t ask for a creative concept as part of the pitch.

Ok, yes, this is a bit of a selfish one – agencies hate pitching creative for free and without following their processes. But actually, from a client view point, it doesn’t add anything. Imagine going to a surgeon and asking him to operate on you so you can see what his handy work is like – no consultation before, no tests, no x-rays; not even pressing on your leg to see where the pain is. That’s what it’s like for agencies whom can’t do workshops, persona planning, UX stories before presenting an idea.

Also, personally, I always ask the question if an agency can spend ages on pitch work – they can’t have that much existing client work on and how viable are they going forward?
  1. Don’t make your decision based on one meeting

A one-hour presentation is not enough really for you to get value and understanding of the agency you’re looking to appoint. Meet them first, perhaps more informally, get to know a bit about them and let them get an understanding of you and what you want. Then meet again for a more formal presentation of how they can help. It’s really important you can gauge both the informal and formal approaches of them and see if they are consistent in their approach and communication. Hell, if it calls for it, have a third catch-up too.
  1. Meet the non-sales staff

It might not be possible for every meeting in the pitch process (someone’s got to earn their keep!) but try and meet some of the creative or technical staff, even if just for ten minutes. Even just meeting an account/project manager rather than a business development manager. You want to know the team you’ll be working with day to day – not the guy with the silver tongue and impressive KeyNote skills. Does their technical team ease your nerves about the challenges ahead and do their creative team inspire you?
  1. If you don’t like their current portfolio, that’s not a bad thing

Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be inviting the agency to pitch if you didn’t like at least some of their work. But don’t get too hung up if you don’t like a design they’ve done for another client – the other client signed it off, so it shows that agency can meet a brief and deliver. Hey, who knows, the other client might not like the design the agency does for you. The good thing though is agencies (Well, we do for sure) like negative feedback. It gives us something to steer away from and is really constructive to getting something that works for you.

  1. Check the staff contracts

I’ll be honest, this is a point that I believe favours Pixel. As part of the process, you need to get an understanding of how the team at the agency are employed. These days a lot of agencies don’t employ full-time in-house staff – either using freelancers or, shock horror, off-shoring/outsourcing it.
Fundamentally, I have no major issue with this; but if I were on the client side, I’d want to know that the knowledge and relationships built up in the team during the core of my project isn’t lost as soon as its live. Yes, full-time employees can leave, but not as regularly as free lancers whom move straight on to their next role taking all that experience out of the door.
  1. Sector experience is great, but more experience is better

If an agency has specific experience in your industry that’s great. We know we have great experience in the building/manufacturing sector, finance sector, ecommerce and third sector – but we wouldn’t be put off pitching from something completely out of those key areas; so, don’t let it close your net in by excluding anybody with a specific sector example. Overall digital experience and knowledge is much more important – the key areas of UX, CRO, SEO, Security, Performance etc are all sector agnostic.
  1. Start with the foundations

Before you even start with getting agencies in to pitch, as part of your pre-selection work – find out what language and what platforms the agencies use. If your IT team insist on a Microsoft based Infrastructure, there’s no point really getting PHP specialists in. Also find out, if it’s a website project, what CMS they use. Is it open-source, licensed or proprietary? This blog is already pretty long so I won’t get into the licensed vs open-source debate (we prefer the licensed Kentico though!!), but do be careful with proprietary systems; if your agency goes bust or the relationship breaks down, transferring your site to another provider will be very very hard.
  1. To help your business, make sure they know business

Pitches often focus on creative, experience, case studies etc – as they should. But don’t forget to do a bit of due-diligence. You’re about to invest a lot of money into this company – you need return and don’t want to see it scuppered. Of course, start with the financials yourself (health B/S, credit score and cash in the bank), but don’t forget to look at their business continuity and infosec procedures as part of the pitch – where do they host, is it shared, what’s their back-up and source code management process, do they have secure remote access to be able to work without access to the office, security practices etc.; even ask about their staff turnover rate.
  1. Success is about results, not always about awards

We’ll put our hands up as guilty – we do push awards if we’re nominated for them or win them. But this blog is written to help client-side processes. So therefore I’ll say you need to ignore most of the awards you see. The creative and digital agencies are very vain, we like to pat ourselves on the back – this means there are about 25 award ceremonies a week in our sector and the winners… are typically those that buy the most table space at the event. I’m not being bitter – if you read industry publications and social media posts there’s a big backlash towards the awards centric approach of some agencies at the moment. Instead look at real world results – listen out for “We helped increase turnover from £Xm to £Ym”, “The redesign increased conversion rate by Z%” and look for the awards/proof that back these much more important statements up.
  1. At the end of the day, it’s good to talk…

There’s a lot of talk in this blog about process and meetings and tasks to do… at the end of the day, you need to like the agency you’re going to work with. Any agency worth their salt will want a close and ongoing relationship, so if you really don’t click it’s not going to be great for either party. That’s why point 2 is quite key, have a few meetings, get to know each other. Who knows, working together might not only be commercially successful… but god forbid, it might also be fun.