Having been in this wonderful region of ours for almost two years now, I thought I’d grasp the opportunity to take stock on my experiences so far, with a particular focus on the client-agency pitch process.
I have always found the thrill of the pitch process insatiable; from the introductory call to the kick-off meeting to the main event itself, each turn is tinged with excitement and anticipation, and every interaction is a chance to impress and ultimately convince your prospective new client that your agency is the very best agency for their business.
But my excitement has been – how can I put it? – “ever so slightly hampered” over recent months with the seemingly increasingly lengthy pitch process, the desperation of agencies at times to secure business at any cost, and the occasional decision-making that at times, well, defies logic.
Let us delve a little deeper into these subjects.
The MENA advertising industry certainly feels like a buyers’ market at the moment – clients can get more for less because there will always be someone willing to offer a ‘deal’ at the last minute, with a mindset that any business is better than the right business. The brilliant Lee Clow once commented that “agencies get paid like they are doing their clients’ laundry”. That was in 2012, and seven years later the progress to realise more value-based models has been sluggish to say the least.
There are green shoots further afield that our region could certainly consider. Hamish Pringle, the current director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), advocates a Hollywood-inspired system whereby clients pay agencies a licensing fee for a breakthrough creative idea. The system is gaining popularity in the US and the UK so maybe it’s time to trial it here.
If data is the new oil then surely it’s never been easier for us to use that wealth of rich information to prove the value we can bring to businesses and model how brilliant creative ideas will have a lasting ROI on marketing investments. I truly believe that the future belongs to those who believe in their ideas and their ability to put a marketable value behind them.
Which takes me to the (increasingly stringent) procurement-led process. You can have all the strategic and creative firepower in the world but if there isn’t that instant spark between the client and their potential agency, then all the super-brains in the world will count for nothing. And yet it seems on occasion we are being asked to pitch for a piece of business without so much as an introductory phone call with the marketing head. If a client-agency relationship built on trust and mutual understanding is the holy grail, how come we are warned off (and in some instances disqualified) from interacting with our prospective clients? Great work has to be sold. And it isn’t easy to do so, because great work is unexpected. Which makes it very difficult to sell anything wonderful via a 200-slide Keynote deck.
And then there are the timelines. Often agreed without any consultation with the marketing department, an agency’s performance is seemingly not judged on ‘How can you grow my brand?’ but ‘How quickly can you Mac up a gazillion assets on my deliverables list?’ Agencies, living in fear of not detracting from the “official RFP written directive” duly oblige, and before you know it we’ve spent twice as much on designers and editors as we have on conceptual creative and strategy folks.
Depressingly, this approach will mean clients on occasion making the wrong choice, because the agency that can meet the ridiculous deadlines is usually also the one with spare capacity and resources waiting to pounce.
And so, for any clients who are planning to issue an RFP in the coming months ahead, I have put together a simple check-list for you that I guarantee will increase your chances of finding
the right, long-term partner for your business. (There are seven because I like to be on brand.)
1. DO put together a search brief: Why are you looking and what criteria will you use to judge who is best? It will help you filter out agencies that really shouldn’t have been on your list in the first place.
2. DO select on the basis of skills, processes, track records and people.
3. DO consider paid-for pitches; it will show the market you are serious and you value getting the best work.
4. DO think about the timing you are giving and whether it’s enough to get the very best thinking. Remember that time, not money is gold dust to us agency folks.
5. DON’T shortlist more than three or four agencies. If your pitch list includes 12, you haven’t thought enough about your brief.
6. DON’T just base your budget on what you spent last time. It must be realistic for what you want to achieve now.
7. DON’T Leave the question of fees till last.
So, in summarising, I’d love for this article to be a mini rallying cry to all agency leads. I have no doubt the themes I raise here are familiar ground for many, but with a new breed of agency leads entering the region, maybe the timing is right to get together and formulate a plan. We owe it to ourselves and to our industry to command better value for the brilliant work we do every day, and have the bravery to always turn down any business in favour of the right business.
as published in Campaign Middle East, Power Essays 2019