Win or Lose, Agencies Need to Conduct Post-Mortem After New-Business Pitches

Coots Tells Ad Age's Small Agency Conference Why Analyzing The Process Is So Vital

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You've invested blood, sweat and tears -- not to mention tons of money -- into trying to win a new piece of business, only to learn that you were beat out by a competitor. Groan.

Agency execs know all too well that the dreaded phone call when the client says "we've gone with another shop" is one of the worst moments an ad agency has to contend with. But it's hardly where the new-business pitch process should end, said Laurie Coots, the former global CMO of TBWA and outgoing president of consultancy Disruption Works.

Laurie Coots
Laurie Coots

Taking time out to deconstruct the pitch after it has happened is critical, Ms. Coots said. It can help agencies learn from the patterns that emerge about your style of presenting, the strengths and weaknesses of your people, and ultimately it can make your agency better the next time around.

"One of our biggest problems is that we're paid to have the answers," said Ms. Coots to a packed room of attendees at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference in Portland. "We're not paid to ask the questions ... our currency is not about looking at 'How could I have done this differently, or better?'"

While agencies throw themselves wholeheartedly into new-business pitches -- and many feel exhilarated by the process and how it gets their creative juices flowing -- they haven't made a practice of analyzing their behavior after a pitch. And they should, win or lose.

Said Ms. Coots: "If you win, you celebrate. But the first thing you should do is to find out why. Did they love your strategy and did they love your creative work? Will you be good for [the client's] resume for the next job? Or do they just like the weather in your city?"

And then there's the loss, which can be a highly emotional time for agency execs who were involved in the pitch. "There's a lot of are usually operating at this point with no data. At the end of a pitch, most clients cannot tell you exactly why they picked one agency over another. They usually tell you something very lame like 'Oh, we just had more chemistry with someone else' or 'It was very close.'" There can be finger-pointing and bad blood too that develops between team members.

Instead agencies must focus on being rational. Ms. Coots' recommendation is that win or lose, they should demand a report card for every pitch. Agencies should ask what criteria the client has utilized to make its decision.

Additionally, agencies should appoint someone who can be a "cool head" unemotional about the pitch process. This person should be documenting what happens in every pitch -- everything from whether you went over the allotted presentation time to interplay between team leaders to rating how clearly the strategy was explained.

Once you have compiled all that information, debrief the team members with actionable strategies; debrief the consultant: debrief the clients; and consider debriefing the management team at your entire agency. And you never know, she said -- this process could help you to go pitch a rival account or perhaps reconnect with an agency that once rejected you.

"The minute you are told you lose the account, that's the minute you start marketing to the company because you have a ton of deep knowledge now about the company," said Ms. Coots. If the new shop doesn't deliver, you can be there.

The lesson? The ad business is about storytelling. And after pitches is when a lot of stories get told. But it's better if your story is informed by what really happened and in a way that you can improve your batting average.

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