How often is your agency in a competitive pitch situation?

I always find it interesting when some agencies start working with us and tell us they really don’t find themselves in a pitch situation very often, or at least traditionally haven’t needed to.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although more and more firms are finding themselves having to pitch more often.

Generally, I find that positive, because the team gels together, hones their creative and presentation chops and reinforces the culture (when it goes well, of course).

A recent article in The Drum, and Ad Age from a few months back, raised a few questions/comments on the pitch process, and incidentally, gave me some validation on our own new business process.

From the Ad Age piece, The New Pitch Process: Shorter, Faster, Better, an initial quote:

Giampoli [former global director of agency relations for Kraft Foods and Mondelez] advises cutting the RFI step because clients can easily do their own research on agencies. And rather than asking shops to formulate full-blown creative executions, clients should spend more time meeting agencies at their offices and quizzing them about their strategic visions.

A few things to unpack here-it’s promising to hear a marketer advocating for more face time with agencies at their offices, but the reality is that’s very tough in practice at the early stages.  A worthwhile goal, but not always practical.

The take I found most valuable was potential clients easily doing their own research on agencies. Absolutely true, and happening more and more.   Where’s the first place they go?

Your site.

Here’s where I stress your site needs to be easily navigable, clear on positioning and reflective of your work.

From the same piece:

Jill Baskin, chief marketing officer at Hershey and a former Kraft and Mondelez marketer, says she tries to avoid paperwork, including RFIs and RFPs, in favor of conversations.

Yes! And here’s the validation part I mentioned.  I understand it’s a bit self-serving, but we’ve been preaching this for quite some time: have a conversation.

Talk to your prospect, not at them.

Returning to the first quote above from Deb Giampoli, the piece continues her quote:

Questions clients should ask, she suggests, include:

— What challenges or opportunities are most pressing for our brand?

— How have you solved similar kinds of challenges for other clients?

— What does the agency think the fee range should be?

Absolutely, BUT, when you can, get to questions like these (with the exception of the third on fees) as early as you can.

Those first two questions, and more like them, should come in out in the very first meeting, so you can ideally avoid the RFI and pitch process altogether. That’s the goal.

Then Ad Age drops the following line:

Some clients are using project work, not formalized pitches, as a way to test agencies.

Yes they are, and it comes off in the article, to me at least, as being a newer trend.  This has been happening for a while, and is continuing.  It’s an ideal opportunity to get in there and land and expand.

One last bit of validation that’s good to hear from a CMO, in terms of new business process:

Michael McGoohan, chief marketing officer at Biofreeze owner Performance Health, says he never used an RFP for the original project, choosing 360i among a handful of agencies. His process included informal conversations and asking 360i to share case studies on how it dealt with similar brands.

Absolutely-and the point is not validation for us, but instead because those informal conversations and case studies are so important to any new business process.

Lastly is a quote from Ditch the Pitch: ‘Battle weary troops never win’ says AMV BBDO group CEO Cilla Snowball:

Best to be ruthlessly selective about whether you pitch in the first place and then give it your all. Spreading agency resource too thin on pitches is a recipe for disaster.

I would have liked a viewpoint from an agency smaller than AMV BBDO, but the point still stands-you do need to be selective, not only in a pitch situation, but in your decisions of which prospects to pursue up front.

You can go too far the other way and self-select needlessly, but early in the process, going after clients that aren’t the best fit given your experience, or who are too small, will ultimately work against the health of your team.

I'm the VP of Sales at RSW/US. We specialize in working with services firms to help drive and close new business-if you need help with that, email me at What I actually do: drive sales efforts to bring ad agencies and services firms on board with RSW, create content around successful new business tactics and help drive RSW/US marketing objectives, including social media channels, blog content, webinars, video and speaking engagements. Dig it.