Business is built on human relationships. For many brands, the strength of relationships with agency partners is critical in driving results. Everyone would agree they want a great relationship with their agency. So why do these relationships begin with a pitching process that is very un-human?
Brands and agencies very rarely interact face-to-face during initial stages of the pitching process, when criteria are noted in spreadsheets and boxes are checked. No other relationships begin in this way—at least not those that last. We need to refine the way we pitch with new ways of working. Here are four ways to get started:
Make the process less time-consuming
No positive relationship between people starts with the completion of a spreadsheet—yet this has become a ritual for every agency pitching to work with a brand. It is not only time-consuming, but often counterproductive.
Teams spend precious time filling in details, coming up with ideas, and then chasing prospects for feedback. Sometimes, this is all to see themselves eliminated from a process without a single conversation or face-to-face meeting. Smaller agencies might also have to neglect existing clients and waste precious capital. Brands and agencies should work together to refine the process and make it less time-intensive.
Think of the process as a two-way street
For brands, the process of pitching can be equally frustrating. Assessing and adjudicating pitches from an assortment of agencies is a time-consuming process—and often the key decision-maker has a preference for an agency or two before the process even begins. This is fair of course, but creates even more of a necessity to level the playing field for other agencies invited to the process.
Often, after a conversation around the brief, issues and challenges come to light that couldn't be explained on paper. A 30-minute conversation could negate the need for a 100-question RFI document. This initial conversation would be beneficial for both parties, kicking the process off with an open dialogue and testing the compatibility between brands and agencies.
Consider the person behind the pitch
A more effective pitch process needs to be redesigned with human relationships at the center. Before a brief is shared, strategy drafted or Excel sheet opened, have a conversation. An open and broad discussion will tell you more about an agency or a team than any document.
Only after a conversation should a brief follow. People and agencies will invest more in delivering against a brief for someone with whom they have a relationship. By having a discussion, you have also signaled investment in the process. It does wonders for an agency's attitude toward your brand, which often results in more creative work.
Embrace the digital shift
There has never been a better time to make these changes. The crisis we are navigating has forced us to adapt the way we work and interact with each other on a daily basis—giving us a new perspective about what is essential in business. Just as we have a new understanding of working remotely, we should make this moment an opportunity to create a pitching process that works better for brands, agencies and the humans in the middle.
One of the great things about tools like Zoom: They preserve the humanness of interacting and communicating with each other. As such, they can enable initial chemistry meetings to see if the connection is there. It’s also much easier to get everyone involved—I’ve never seen 35 people have a productive meeting until recently—and requires far fewer flights across the country.
My message to brands: Kill the long RFIs, remember you are entering a relationship and encourage communication early on. When searching for the right agency partner, communication is key.