Pitches: when should agencies walk?

To pitch or not to pitch? That's the question that perpetually gets agencies hot and bothered.

Now, two further issues have reignited the debate about whether they should think less about the thrill of the chase and more about throwing down their cards and leaving the table.

The first involved Beiersdorf, which ended up with something more embarrassing than Nivea on its face when it postponed its £1.6 million European below-the-line review after the Marketing Agencies Association called on shops to boycott the process, which saw more than 50 of them invited to a post-RFI meeting. Meanwhile, Kwik Fit punctured a few agencies’ hopes of winning its business by sending out a brief that omitted any RFI or client briefing stages.

Some shops have already decided to slam on the brakes rather than risk a nasty accident. Despite various industry initiatives to improve pitches, reviews launched by even some of the best-known brands can still seem shambolic and ill-thought-through.

Would clients better prepare their pitches if they knew more agencies would not waste time and money on a wild gamble?

Industry body

Paul Bainsfair, director-general, IPA

"If more agencies walked away from pitches, I think it would make clients think more seriously about how they go about organising them. In the meantime, agencies need to be aware of the warning signs. Beware of the new marketing director who shortlists an agency he has already worked with two or three times. And watch out for the client who wants you to sign a ‘prenup’ under which he owns everything you produce. Stay clear of clients with chequered agency relationships. And don’t pitch if you don’t think you have a realistic chance of winning. You won’t get British Airways if you’ve only got 12 people."


Peter Cowie, founding partner, Oystercatchers

"There are a number of questions agencies need to ask themselves before deciding to pitch. Is there a realistic chance of winning given the number of competing agencies? Is the brief clear and is the client one they feel they could work with? Does that client have the appropriate budget? At the same time, agencies should be confident about asking clients the right questions before committing themselves. Do both parties have a shared ambition, how will the approval process work and who will be the key decision-makers? And, although it’s terribly un-British, don’t be afraid to talk about money upfront."


Rosie Doggett, procurement advisor

"How a pitch is run gives insight into how a potential client will behave after the event. By and large, if a client launches a monster admin-laden, super-complex online pitch process, there is little hope that the winning agency (or, heaven forfend, agencies – if the hapless client can’t decide) will find the account a delight to work on. In the mad dash for new business, common sense can desert normally sensible agencies. Pitching is expensive and time-consuming, and there’s enough activity in the marketing industry not to take part in anything that triggers a negative gut feel. If a pitch looks like a turkey, runs like a turkey and smells like a turkey, it is a turkey – and should be avoided."

Industry body

Scott Knox, managing director, Marketing Agencies Association

"The minute the client starts withholding information, or when a pre-pitch contract appears to relate to ownership of ideas, agencies should say no. How can you build on a relationship born out of a lack of transparency, trust and respect? After that, it’s down to whether it is commercially viable. Is the requirement within your skillset? Do you have capacity to put your all into winning? If you won, what impact would that have on the agency? Most agencies are adept at deciding whether to pitch for an account or not. What is messing up the market is bad practice. Brands that want the best need to behave like the best."