New IPA and ISBA pitch guide aims to slash time, money and bureaucracy

Industry bodies have published Finding an Agency, a best-practice guide for clients on agency search and selection.

Pitching: guide aims to help establish 'long-term sustainable relationships' (Getty Images)
Pitching: guide aims to help establish 'long-term sustainable relationships' (Getty Images)

The IPA and ISBA have published a new best-practice guide, Finding an Agency, which the two organisations said would help avoid pitches that ended up "overly bureaucratic, lengthy and costly for both sides".

The guide would help the industry develop pitch processes "that work for everyone and result in long-term sustainable relationships, ultimately producing outstanding creative work and results that drive growth for the client and its chosen agency", Joyce Kelso, associate director of marketing at the IPA, said. 

It covers key areas for clients to consider before undertaking a review and during the process, as well as key principles for running a pitch. Topics covered include deciding whether a review is the correct move in the first place, selecting the right agencies to invite to pitch, developing the brief, timings and ensuring an open and transparent process.

The new guide was welcomed by marketing intermediaries. Phil Edmonds, managing partner at Oystercatchers, said the clients it worked with have generally "committed to a spend with a firm view on how they are accelerating their marketing performance.

"But, from what we hear, there are still many brands flying solo without support in their agency partnership search, wasting time and money on both sides." 

Clients were often surprised to discover "the sheer volume of man-hours and investment agencies commit to pitches", he noted: "Agencies go in 100% without fail. Sometimes this translates into a lack of client diligence that agencies need during the process."

Edmonds said that business-to-business was one sector that often needed guidance, calling it the "wild west". He added: "There are brands with big budgets, complicated tasks, sometimes run by junior teams who may lack the knowledge of which kind of agency to talk to."

Problems sometimes arose because the demands on both marketers and agencies are more complex than ever, according to Martin Jones, managing partner at AAR.

"Pitching is time consuming, so before you call or enter into one, ensure everyone is aligned internally on the question you are asking," he said. "Increasingly, there is work to be done to design the right operating model before even calling a pitch so you know where this partner fits into the overall capability mix rather than working this out during the process."

The most important things for clients to take on board, Jones said, include being clear on what they are asking of agencies, being upfront about the "size of the prize" before agencies decide whether to commit time and resources, allowing a reasonable amount of time and using the process to find an agency partner, rather than the solution to a problem.

Richard Exon, founder of Joint, said in his experience pitching followed the "80/20 rule", with the majority of clients and agencies entering into pitching "in good faith and with (mostly) shared expectations". The guide would "help make this healthy majority even more effective," he said. 

"The rest, the troublemakers, fall into two groups," Exon added. "Firstly, the unintentionally difficult.
Good people making honest mistakes who will benefit hugely from some well-judged guidance from ISBA and the IPA. Clear briefs, sensible timings and tight teams of empowered clients will spring up all around us. Happy days.

"Sadly, the second group of troublemakers, the wrong 'uns, won’t read the guide or even know it exists.
They are time-wasters and they know it. Thankfully, they are a small minority, but they can be hard to spot before it’s too late. We probably can’t insist that everyone reads the guide before every chemistry meeting, but it might be a start."

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