Guest blog: To pitch or not to pitch? – Gerry Ellender , The Pulse Group

Pitching is an essential part of agency life, it provides the life-blood that keeps the wheels turning and growth plans being met, but is it truly necessary?

As a leader of a global creative experience agency, The Pulse Group, I often find myself asking the question as I review another RFI and/or RFP pitch document.

The question of whether to pitch or not pitch is always front of mind. Don’t get me wrong, I loathe the thought of turning down opportunities with exciting clients which would open us up to a new sector, but the reality is, pitching has become increasingly competitive, timelines shorter and the client’s expectations higher. We don’t have a bottomless new business budget, so we are having to be more strategic and selective in the opportunities we pursue.

This has seen us turning some pitches down. Never is this decision taken lightly and it is always backed up with a strong strategic business rationale grounded in substantiated facts, however the ramifications of saying ‘no thanks’ to a client who has taken the time to research you as an agency and include you on their pitch list should not be under-estimated.  With some clients we are still feeling the after-shocks by being excluded from future opportunities.   That said I don’t regret any of our decisions, for an agency of our size, every opportunity has to be viable.

Our business has historically grown through relationships whether new or old. The personal connection is still as prevalent today, however it simply means you may get a helping foot in the door the rest of the process is down to the quality of our creative, the chemistry between our people and the client and our credentials.

This is even more relevant with the rise of procurement led pitches.  Does the involvement of procurement add value? The answer simply is yes. It proves to me the opportunity is a genuine one and the client is not simply window shopping. The tender process will be fair and the brief, usually, a well-considered and thought through tender.  The down side is the process is longer and at times too focused on the commercial aspect of the pitch rather than quality and innovative creative.

Chemistry sessions are usually non-existent, which to me is such a crucial element to the process.  Why put agencies through the time and cost of pitching if in the final phase there is no chemistry between the two? On paper the agency might appear perfect but in reality if there is no chemistry, an element of ‘frisson’ between the two parties the relationship will simply not work and certainly won’t see an agency secure a ‘second term’ when the business is out to pitch again.

So, what do I see the future of pitching to be?

There is no doubt in my mind that the process of pitching is still as critical as ever. It breeds a healthy sense of competitiveness between agencies, leads teams to push boundaries producing some of their most creative strategic thinking. However, for the process to truly flourish it needs to be rooted at the start in an ‘open relationship’.

Clients would meet with a selected number of agencies first to shortlist them, based on chemistry and credentials, and then take them to pitch stage. This would reduce the numbers game of being part of a 1 in 10 odds of winning! We would be pitching against two or three other agencies who the client has already identified they could work with.  The pitch would be run in the spirit of transparency combining; initial briefing with the other agencies, all Q&A information shared, a budget or guide always being included and an agreed number of tissue meetings held throughout the process.

Of course I recognise that this is an ideal scenario and it is not always feasible. However, both an agency and a client want the same thing – to get the best possible response from the RFP and/ or RFI.   And to truly do this there needs to be a dialogue. Not just at the start of the process when the clock starts ticking and you have 24 hours to galvanise your teams to read an RFP / RFI and respond with your questions.  But throughout the process the dialogue needs to be constant. Constant and of course fair between all parties.

Don’t let us forget that we are in the business of communications. Our role as an experience agency is to facilitate our clients connecting and communicating with their audiences. So, please let us in the same spirit, keep the channels of communications open – let’s not forget it’s good to talk!

Gerry Ellender is CEO of The Pulse Group.

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