Agencies are spreading themselves too thinly in the chase for business

Media agencies pitching for business – Media agencies are currently spreading themselves too thinly and pitching for every opportunity that comes their way.  Paul Denvir says that a few searching questions before pitching could be the difference between winning, losing – or not pitching at all.

Media-buying agencies are spreading themselves too thinly and pitching for every opportunity that comes their way.

Our research with accountants, Willott Kingston Smith, earlier this year found that the media buying sector is stretching its resources to respond to all the invitations to pitch they can.

These agencies have seen the costs of new business pitches run into several thousands of pounds, often for no return.  This is a huge waste of resources as well as being demotivating to all involved.

There are, however, ways for agencies to focus what resources they have to win more, and better, quality opportunities – a more strategic “pampering” approach to beauty parades.

Measure your bid success-rate

Choosing to decline an invitation to tender is, of course, a brave thing to do, especially when the market isn’t strong.

Some media-buying agencies are, however, becoming more selective about the pitches they participate in.

Knowing which to accept and which to decline comes from a detailed understanding of where the agency wants to be and its past record in pitches – ie, what type of work and clients it wants?  In which pitches has it been successful?  In which pitches was it not and what were the factors and costs behind these successes and failures?  Those that make these calculations develop an in-depth understanding of their internal activities and costs in producing a bid.  They are able to focus on the type of pitches that they have a greater chance of winning.

Analyse your chances of winning

Ideally, agencies should only pitch to existing clients and prospective clients with whom they already have a relationship.

The success of pitches is closely linked to the depth of knowledge and quality of a relationship a media buying agency has developed with a client or target.

Solutions can then be completely tailored to that client’ business issues.  In many situations (and given the timescale of a typical pitch), there is little time to amass all this knowledge and build this relationship.

The more agencies know, however, and the stronger relationship they can build before the pitch, the better.

As our research found, many agencies are tempted to pitch for every opportunity that comes their way, even if this comes “out of the blue”.

Pitching for all of these “bluebirds” is not a profitable use of the agency’s resources.  Some agencies we work with, in wishing to up their win rate and protect their profitability, have begun to evaluate a bluebird’s real potential when it comes in.

In doing so they assess whether they should pitch for it or not (see table).

If there are negative answers to the majority of these questions, these media buying agencies will decline the invitation.

Obviously, when a bluebird opportunity is turned down, it needs to be done so in a client-focused way – ie, explaining to the client why they will not benefit from the agency’s participation in their pitch (not “we’re too busy”).

If done in this manner, the client will respect the agency more.  It can lead them to offer other, more suitable pieces of business in the future.

Improve your chances – commercial qualification

The more information that can be discovered about the client, the stronger the chances will be of winning that piece of business.

Very few clients will refuse to discuss their brief with those agencies they have invited to tender.

For those that do refuse, we would question whether the media buyer has a real chance of winning that pitch or if it is simply there to make up the numbers.

It is essential that agencies take up the opportunity to meet the client as much as possible. In doing so, the aim should be to “uncover” key information, which is often not detailed in the invitation-to-tender document.

This would include the following areas of “commercial qualification”: The business driver(s) – what’s really going on in the client company and what’s on the horizon?  What’s going on in their industry?  What is their competition doing and how are they hoping to differentiate in their marketplace?  The bases of decision – who is really involved in the decisionmaking?  Who are the influencers?  What are they saying they really want?  Who outside the marketing department should we really get to know?  What does our agency need to demonstrate to satisfy the inevitable different viewpoints?  What other agencies (advertising, design, direct marketing, etc) may have a bearing on the decision? 

Money / budgets – how much do they intend to pay for our solutions?  Media-buying agencies should not be afraid to ask what budget the client has in mind.  Often this will also highlight what type and quality of campaign they are expecting, and show the agency whether they need to offer a basic or an “all singing, all dancing” solution.

Timescales: If a client has not stipulated a timescale, agencies should try and get them to work back from the end-result so both parties are clear about the timings involved.  It’s also worth establishing whether a campaign is dependent on other business initiatives taking place – what those are, their timescales and any causes of potential delay.

Decision-making process: Who is involved?  When and how will decisions be made?  What points of reference will be sought?  What are the key stages of the process?  Alternatives / competition / incumbents – who else is being considered?  The types of firms the client has invited to pitch against us will give an indication of what the client is looking for in terms of particular specialisms, industry knowledge and fees.

Procurement professionals, once a rarity, are becoming commonplace in the agency selection decision-making process.

With some professionals, their purpose is simply to drive down costs.  With others, they are looking to improve the overall value of the relationship the client has with its media buyers.

Tempting though it may seem, procurement professionals should not be ignored in our proposal.

Those agencies who talk with them as early as possible, find out their interests, their brief and their terms of reference in this pitch, tend to be more successful.

They include the procurement professionals’ needs in their final submission and effectively turn them from an obstacle into one of their advocates!  Make your bid different Media-buying agencies that are consistently successful in pitches, tend to focus on all the issues the various people in the client organisation have.  They speak their language and make them feel that they really understand their business.

More importantly, those agencies have got to know more than just the marketing director or their equivalent.

The Pitch Finally a word on the pitch itself.

Rehearsal makes or breaks a presentation.  As Neil Flett says in his book, Pitch Doctor, having no rehearsal results in an unprofessional, confused transfer of information.  Little rehearsal results in a mechanical, rigid display.

Saying “yes” to every invitation to pitch that comes your way can seriously affect profitability, staff morale and your position in the market place.

Being more strategic about which clients you want (and focusing resources on winning them) will reap valuable rewards.

There is definitely a move afoot to be more selective about pitches.  We hope more mediabuying agencies see the benefit and start using their precious resources to win the business they want.

Should you pitch?

If you answer “no” to the majority of these questions, then your agency should decline an invitation to pitch:

  • Can we speak to these people to qualify the opportunity?
  • Do we have the resources to pursue and deliver this work?
  • Is this work likely to produce our minimum profitability level?
  • Is there the prospect of further substantial on-going work?
  • Is there an identifiable and autonomous decision-making process?

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