brands in britain 2024

Pitching In 2024: Embracing Transparency, GenAI Revolution, and the Rise of Strategic Relationships

How is the pitch process going to change this year?

By Dani Gibson

2024 is forecast to be a turbulent year in terms of new business pitching, with the economy still in crisis the drama won't subside anytime soon.

And the nature of pitching itself is changing. Potential shifts could include a return to more face-to-face interactions, streamlining the process with fewer stages, and more widespread adoption of initiatives like the Pitch Positive Pledge.

In the AAR's latest annual ranking report for new business it was clear that in over 80% of pitches, participating agencies had no idea which agencies - and how many of them - they were competing against for the business. The AAR says that going forward, boosting transparency stands out as a key element in fine-tuning the pitch process for agencies.

So we asked the intermediaries and pitch consultants for their prognosis for 2024's pitching landscape. A prevailing theme emerged: success hinges on the strategic relationship-building between clients and agencies. Moreover, there's an anticipation of a marketing productivity revolution powered by GenAI. This shift not only challenges traditional dynamics but also reshapes clients' perceptions of agency value.

Tina Fegent, global marketing procurement consultant

The phrase I am thinking so far this year with clients is cautious optimism. There are some clients that are feeling the pressure or threat of marketing budget cuts and there are some that are committing to a degree of increased marketing spend. So in terms of new business, I feel that it may be a bit slow to begin with in 2024 but as the year rolls along, clients will want to look at what marketing activities get them the best results.

I think that the categories of spend where the direct result of the investment can be measured will be an increasing focus for marketers. So sectors such as digital, ecommerce, social and influencer and experiential will be active.

In terms of the pitch process, I am really encouraging clients to have the right process that reflects the sector, the brief and the budget. We can be creative and flexible and put the right process in place that works for both the client and the agencies involved.

As I have said before I don’t feel that the pitch process can or will be stopped as clients need a framework to manage an agency selection process and in line with their supplier polices and processes, but we can adapt and respect all the parties involved.

Richard Robinson, managing director, Oystercatchers

Whenever a new year of pitching starts it's wise to remember the words of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who, the year after the French Revolution, said ""plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose"". [The more things change, the more they stay the same].

So, peering ahead into 2024 maybe the better question is what will change and what will stay the same?

The three things clients want most from pitches remain universal and timeless: Help, guidance and capability.

  • Help to understand today's market dynamics

  • Guidance to find the right path through to tangible action

  • Capability to upskill their knowledge and plans with the best tools and services

Three human qualities, driven from a genuine need to seek out the trusted advisors and practitioners to lift the bar and exceed strategic goals. Within this, CMOs and marketing leaders are increasingly aware effective marketing needs to include the long and the short: brand-building and sales excellence, the tortoise and the hare, winning together, at the same time, in unison.

The key question for prospective partners is how to prepare for twin-speed pitches, when it may not be immediately obvious which gear the client is in. Ensuring this is known before the process begins to enable resource, time and effort to be commensurate with reward. It's important for the client to share this information, but equally important for the agency to not proceed before the answer is known.

A tactic we're seeing agencies deploying with devastating brilliance is shadow pitch teams. Designating people by category well ahead of a pitch being commissioned or known of to create centres of excellence for finance, pharma, fmcg and more; ensuring immediate understanding vs the need skill up. From the minute first contact is made the agency has unfair human advantage, and when deployed correctly the tactic delivers a will to win few can surpass. Time and again we see the agency most likely to win the pitch is the agency that most wants to win the pitch. These Tiny Noticeable Things (or TNTs for short) are the things that regularly make the biggest difference in a world where every agency has creative excellence, strategic mastery, and operational discipline.

So, pushing into 2024 consider how help, guidance and capability can be at the heart of pitching. And within this, consider that for every new business win there will be an old business loss. The agencies who deliver for their existing clients with the same passion, hunger and desire they covet another agency’s will be the ones who stand out as we look forward into 2025 in twelve months’ time.

Rob Foster, co-managing partner, The Observatory

The latest IPA Bellwether report highlighted the biggest boost in marketing budgets for over a decade, with 2024 looking to be a good year for further budget optimism. Whereas recent years saw brands focusing on stabilisation and recovery following the covid pandemic and a volatile economic climate, these renewed signs of industry positivity mean brands can get back to their key focus: growth. Having the right agency partners onboard will be a key element in connecting with consumers, driving brand differentiation and, ultimately, business growth.

We expect 2024 to be an active year for new business as a result, up on 2023 figures, with a focus back on solid strategic thinking and creativity, plus the development of relationships that are longer-term strategic business partnerships. This is good news for agencies. Pitching remains a costly exercise for agencies, both financially and emotionally, and despite significant efforts to improve the process through the likes of Pitch Positive Pledge etc, there is still a great deal of ‘master-servant’ mentality coming from advertisers. There are over seven times the number of agencies signed up to the PPP than advertisers, for example.

So while brands are looking for fresh creative thinking, agencies are looking for a fair and equitable relationship. An organised, well run pitch process means that the clients’ ‘ask’ has realistic and reasonable expectations and will ensure that both sides can get what they are looking for. This will mark the beginnings of a fruitful partnership.

Chris Kemp, owner, Ingenuity

In 2024, clients are seeking efficiency, cross-channel effectiveness, and proactive thinking in new business pitches. Advances in matchmaking successes hinge on better briefs, more empathetic pitch timings, and the exploration of advanced agency ecosystems. Agencies gearing up for this shift should prioritise training teams beyond executive and senior management levels - after all, new business should be the lifeblood of agencies, not a chore.

While every sector is expected to be active, the reshaping of the agency market will lead to more pitches, fostering experimentation with new models within existing budgets.

As for growth, the number of pitches is set to increase, reflecting the evolving industry landscape. At Ingenuity, we’re keen to promote workshops and collaboration over prolonged pitch processes. Regardless though, we’ll see agencies succeed who focus on how they can develop more innovative, imaginative and ultimately superior responses, a positive development for the industry.

The evolving dynamics of pitching pose challenges for marketers in selecting the right agency, given widespread claims of universal capabilities. To help with this, we always see the benefit of providing brands with a diverse selection of agencies and aiding them in forming versatile rosters.

We’re currently involved in more pitches and agency reviews than ever before, largely thanks to our unique understanding of the changing agency landscape.

Vlad Komanicky, founding partner, Alchemists

Pitching is not going out of business. When asked about how agencies can prepare, there’s one piece of advice I always give to any agency leader (and one we internally apply when we pitch): “Think about what’s genuinely unique about you, how that’s applied to the work you do, and how will that benefit the client.” Succinctly articulating this in as few sentences as possible and in a manner that others can’t easily replicate correlates with being able to win.

Still, as we face the upcoming productivity revolution in marketing enabled by GenAI, more emphasis will shift from the Chemistry of the pitch to agencies’ Commercial and Technology capabilities; we expect many things will change. Once we see the first credible benefits of GenAI showcased by agencies, more clients will ask themselves the question of whether their existing partners have the right (technical) capabilities to succeed in this new world.

Commercial partnerships will also fundamentally change - without question. Agencies will have to think hard about transitioning from being paid for time to being paid for outputs or performance. That will require agency commercial, finance, and account teams to work together more than ever, not just during the pitch but on an ongoing basis; otherwise, even a great pitch win might be short-lived.

Angus Crowther, founder, Tuffon Hall

Clients dedicating time to seriously reconsider their agency models and actual marketing output is a trend that's set to continue. This year, there's a growing interest in optimising marketing operations towards faster asset creation and stronger always-on content, drawing more interest as clients allocate additional resources to performance marketing channels.

In terms of matchmaking, clients are seeking to rely on our knowledge of the agency landscape to navigate through longlisting more quickly, getting straight into meetings with excellent agencies that stand a greater chance of winning. This approach facilitates a faster and more focused process. And, as always, it's essential to spend more time on the client than the agency. Repeat – talk about the client far more than you talk about yourselves.

Clients are also expecting agencies to proactively drive AI-driven solutions. Questions and doubts are entering relationships where no steps are being taken towards modern tools and processes. From what we've seen at Tuffon Hall, there are significant opportunities to improve speed and quality of delivery through new approaches to generative AI, no matter the size of the budget.

We anticipate that growth will increasingly come from media companies that can also produce high-quality creative. Media agencies that can carefully guide clients through the strategic maze of social channels AND help them produce brilliant content are high in demand and will continue to be through 2024.

Expect fewer big pitches but more ‘non-pitch’ pitches where the client is being advised by us not to go to market – but to re-brief the agency model and reenergise the team based on their new requirements. This way, you can rebuild trust and develop even stronger relationships.

Cost savings and budget reductions are going to be inevitable in 2024. So, modern marketing will place further emphasis on the clarity of brief, scope, detail, and rigour, which will be the vital link to a healthy agency relationship.

Paul Phillips, managing director, AAR

When a CMO wants to review their agency arrangements, other than it being a statutory requirement (e.g. CCS or TfL) there’s always more to it than the immediate reasons offered; poor service, lack of interest, high agency team turnover, declining quality, too expensive. For the seismic changes in the profile and talent make-up of marketing departments’ in-house capabilities (once the exclusive domain of external agency partners) has significantly impacted on how marketing teams and their agencies work effectively together. And frequently it’s these ways of working that we identify as the root cause of the issue. In such circumstances our counsel is that the CMO has the right agency partner and that our best support is to address the collective working practices between the brand and agency teams to get the best from them. So no pitch but a re-set of how the marketing team works with their agency partner.

CMOs are looking for expertise and excellence as table stakes. What sets successful agencies apart from their competitors in a pitch is instilling a belief in the prospective CMO and their colleagues that this team, these people, are the ones I want to turn to, ahead of all others, to help solve my comms, marketing and ultimately business challenges. The rest is detail.


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