Over the past few years at ID Comms, we've managed more than $1 billion worth of international media pitches. We've read more RFPs than is healthy and sat through pitches from every major agency group, both in the UK and at a regional and global level.
The winners of the various pitches have all presented amazing ideas, passionate smart people and have subsequently developed strong relationships with the client on the back of a mutual understanding of the power of media to drive their businesses forward.
But there have also been a good deal of toe-curling moments along the way. Mostly these occur in the high pressure of a pitch presentation, but it's not unheard of for clumsy mistakes to litter the written materials too.
We've seen many documents that still contain references to other clients, revealing the copy and paste nature of the document's preparation. Without naming names, we will share with you some of the silly mistakes that could be easily eradicated from media pitches.
Silly mistakes that still exist
There was the time when the chief executive of an agency and the strategy director were clearly at loggerheads during the presentation. Comparing themselves in a totally contrived way to the client's brands– would you employ an agency that said it was like a packet of biscuits – didn't make the situation any more comfortable.
There was the time when an agency, in full case-study presentation momentum, claimed that a particular media initiative had nearly doubled a client's business KPIs. But when challenged, couldn't explain how they had isolated the communications contribution from other marketing efforts by the business. Needless to say they didn’t make it to the next round.
It’s common to find agencies making their final presentations sitting down at a laptop – generating a total lack of energy. One agency then talked about research data they didn’t own and that the client had already bought.
Of course, not all presentations are like this. We've also seen some great ones where agencies remember what they are – a media agency. Clients are looking for an expert in media to drive their business. The other stuff is interesting, but covering the media-buying and planning basics are crucial and missing them off is always a fatal mistake in a media pitch.
The great pitches usually have an energetic leader who takes control of the room immediately and demonstrates that the agency has gone the extra mile in understanding the client's business or category.
Commissioning bespoke research or developing a blog with thoughts on the sector are both good ways to demonstrate that commitment.
The best pitches tell you that the agency has read and understood the brief thoroughly. Often they will replay the clients' language back to them – with added media insight – to make them feel like the agency wants to be part of the team.
Commit to results
Smart pitches also show a commitment to results and growing the clients' businesses. Creative ideas are all very well, but marketing teams need to know what they will deliver to the business. It's amazing, but in 2014, this can still get forgotten in favour of showing off how clever and innovative the agency is.
Unfortunately, there are too many pitches where agencies use case studies without due consideration of their relevance to a client's business and make claims for results that they cannot substantiate.
Clients are not dumb, they know exactly when an agency is winging it or making unrealistic claims. It's really obvious, but we still see agencies falling into the hole. And there are the meetings where agencies spend too long talking about their own business (and usually too much time talking about technology) rather than the client's business challenges.
Talking in abstract terms about great technology / tools is tedious. It's far better to demonstrate in practical terms how they can be applied to the client's business, using relevant (and accurate) case studies to prove the point.
All said, the quality of media pitches is probably at an all-time high. Agencies are committing huge resources in preparing, designing and delivering engaging presentations to prospective clients. We are wowed frequently by great agency teams, delivering great insight and strategies for clients in rigorous pitch processes.
It's not a case of some agencies always getting it right and others failing. The reality is that most media agencies are patchy pitchers, sometimes they do an amazing job and other times they simply miss the point.
Where mistakes are made, this could be due to the lack of resources put into a pitch, often because agencies are not very good at being selective about the pitches they compete in.
Many clients think agencies will jump at the chance to pitch for their account, but we know that new business directors have to try and prioritise projects and sometimes the client may end up seeing the agency's B team because they are pitching a lot of other clients.
Consult, clarify and seek guidance before pitching
This puts some onus on the client for a high-quality brief: clients that want to ensure they see the stars of agency land need to ensure that their pitch is the most exciting, best-written and compelling brief in the market.
As consultants, we are asked to help many brands run media agency pitches. We work for the client, but we are a good resource for the agencies to consult, clarify the brief and give some guidance on how to succeed. Yet it's very rare that agencies really make the most of this insight we can provide.
Remember that we will want our clients to see the best and most competitive selection of the inspiring media agencies that exist out there, hence we will always do what we can to help agencies be the best they can be in pitches.
We feel that if we can make the final choice of agency really difficult for the client because the quality is so high, that we have done our job well.
Matt Gill is managing partner at ID Comms, the global media management consultancy