How can agencies boost pitching rate?

A curious read, AAR’s new-business publication on agency rankings in 2012. Who, for instance, would have thought that Inferno had the highest pitch-conversion rate of any agency in London? And that Engine – whose pistons rarely seemed to roar into action last year, seeming instead to idle over – was among the most successful after Inferno? At the other end of the table apparently languish those big beasts – Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO at 19th and Saatchi & Saatchi in joint 20th position.

Of course, the report is an imperfect reflection on the relative success of an agency’s year – the size of the win, its creative opportunity and the remuneration involved might be better metrics and ones that a holding company might be more keen to monitor. But it does provide a rough guide to which agencies seem most able to cherry-pick their new-business targets effectively or create the right alchemy among the pitching team to convert a pitch to a win. So is there some trick Inferno knows that the rest of the agencies are lacking? More crucially, how do agencies improve their pitching rate?


Martin Jones, managing partner, AAR

"Be selective. The best agencies will have objective criteria by which they judge potential pitches. Don’t take on too many pitches at once. You need to give every opportunity your best shot.View the pitch process as a 1,500-metre race, not a sprint. Always be thinking one meeting ahead to ensure you are constantly delighting your potential client. Use the last 36 hours to make the pitch presentation as good as it can be. Rehearse everything from the flow to what questions you might be asked. Pitch decisions are incredibly democratic. Engage with everybody from the most senior client down."


Suki Thompson, managing partner, Oystercatchers

"Agencies who listen with humility, act with courage, inspire trust and believe they can win, convert. Winning pitches requires focus on the ‘exam question’, not what they would like the question to be. Only teams can win, it is never down to an individual – but they need a leader to remind the team that they will win, no matter the crises of confidence. An account lead who is strong and authentic. And, creatively, they need to, as Dan Wieden would say, ‘Move me, dude’ – those who make the clients ‘tingle’ always convert. Finally, incredible attention to detail, so that everything is perfect from the first impressions of the agency to the final goodbye."

Agency head

Michael Sugden, chief executive, VCCP

"People win pitches; ideas don’t. When clients are pitching, they are buying a long-term relationship. The people in the room and the dynamic between those people are essential. Get that wrong and it’s irrelevant how good your idea is. Learn to say no. Pitching is exhausting and an agency needs to stay match-fit. Be selective. Be a good loser. We’ve all been there, when we see the campaign we lost to: ‘I can’t believe we lost to that sh*t.’ Be respectful of a client’s decision, be humble in defeat and be grateful for the opportunity. Circumstances change and clients remember how an agency conducted itself."

Agency head

Karen Buchanan, chief executive, Publicis London

You need to deliver outstanding strategic leadership, especially given the complexity of client business and needs, alongside original creativity at every stage of the pitch process. You need to field the best team and never lose sight of the fact that even the most junior client team member can help turn a ‘yes’ into a ‘no’. However, what we believe sets a winning agency apart is the understanding that clients buy into people – the right attitude, personality, warmth, honesty, involvement and passion that an agency team exudes for the business. Choosing the right agency partner is, ultimately, as much of an emotional decision as a rational one."