Suzanne D. Williams
Future of New Business
"Agencies should be pickier on whether to pitch at all"
Clients also need to work out whether a pitch is the answer to their challenges, says the co-founder of Alchemists
30 March 2023
Modern marketing is evolving, as are the leadership, creative and technical capabilities required to succeed on both the client and agency sides. Modern end-to-end marketing ecosystems are complicated, requiring delivering a compelling creative idea and communicating it to the right audience, context, time, and channel. These ecosystems are hard to design, build and manage. Many clients seek new partners and capabilities to help them on this journey.
With that comes the ever-discussed, loved, and hated pitch process. I delve into this topic with experience managing hundreds of pitches on a client-side and, more recently, several high-profile pitches following our transformational work on the consultancy side.
There are many discussions around broken pitch processes. Or even about so-called “procurement-led” pitches that imply the client emphasises the process and commercials more than substance. However, as a meaty subject that could be, we’ll focus on a more positive aspect of pitching in this article. We’ll aim to explore what it takes to execute a pitch process successfully, and the fundamental building blocks imperative for the future of (an effective) Pitch process.
When we design or assess any pitch process, we start looking at “Why,” “How,” and “What.” In the context of the pitch process, these three elements come down to: “Why [are we pitching],” “How [will we run this pitch]” and “What [do we expect of agencies].”
Most successful pitch processes start with the client marketing team clearly articulating the “Why.” Setting the scene with “Why are we looking for a new partner” and “Why” now helps set the context and drive the narrative of the entire pitch process.
When we look at the “How,” we think of the pitch process structure as, in the past, chemistry and one fantastic creative idea were sufficient to win. Marketing is much more complicated today, and the process needs to reflect this change.
There needs to be more emphasis on overall robustness while promoting client-agency interaction. We design pitch processes with the view that they need to be a test of the potential client-agency relationship. It’s essential to enable both parties to see beyond the glittery curtain and experience resolving real-life challenges together. The Pitch must be more than just another “beauty pageant.”
And the last point to address is the “What.” That is not just a list of client requirements and scope of work, as the success of the future relationship needs more than that. The fit-for-purpose operational and commercial models are essential for the success of any partnership – and they’re often either overlooked or overly simplified. The adverse effects show themselves later, usually when it’s rather late, once the Pitch has been finalised and you already work with the new partner.
Overall, designing, preparing, and running a great pitch is rather complicated. Therefore, clients should think twice about whether the Pitch is the answer to their challenges. And agencies should be pickier on whether to pitch at all – especially when it’s unclear that the client is ready. Although we understand it’s always much easier to say this than act when an opportunity to Pitch arrives.
We hope that pitching in 2023 will become a better experience for everyone. We applaud many industry initiatives, such as the Pitch Positive Pledge. We will certainly do our best to contribute to this change in being equally demanding on clients and agencies and to design and run Pitches that will be enjoyable and value-adding for all participants.
Vlad Komanicky is co-founder of Alchemists