In the fifth annual Agency New Business Thought Leader Survey, the new business solutions provider RSW/US had five agency new business directors ask questions of U.S. advertising agencies on topics ranging from the pitch process, to sales engagement platforms, to list building and management. The survey was conducted in September 2018. RSW’s VP of Sales, Lee McKnight, kindly shared the report with Second Wind. You can download the full report here.
But first, we’d like to talk about one of Lee’s observations regarding new business pitches.
New Business Pitches
The top pitch priority for 77% of respondents is to rehearse until they are fully prepared, i.e., assured of no surprises. Answering all requirements of the brief came in third at 59%.
“’Making sure strategy connects to the creative execution’ follows right behind [intensive rehearsal] at 76%,” said Lee. “I had a pitch presentation experience on the RSW/AgencySearch side of our business involving three agencies in the final pitch. Two of them presented very slick campaigns. The third didn’t present a campaign, but rather presented ‘image boards’ nicely tied to insights they unearthed about the industry, company and brand. The slick campaigns couldn’t make the connection and ended up not winning the business. It is key to show the prospective client that you’re thoughtful, strategic, and organized in how you create and develop new ideas.”
Showcase Your Process
It’s far too easy to get caught up in creating a slick creative presentation when preparing a new business pitch. Second Wind has always recommended that agencies do as little creative spec’ work as possible when pitching or responding to RFPs. The goal of a pitch is to build trust and credibility by talking about the client’s problem, and how your agency works to arrive at a solution.
Clients want ideas, and agencies pitching those clients need to showcase how they arrive at those ideas—not through some magical inspirational moment, but by digging deep into the facts. We study customers, competitors, industry challenges, look for opportunities to exploit, and assess for weak points or executional issues. To offer a solution, we need to fully understand the problem.
Use the pitch to show how you arrive at that understanding. By walking clients through your process, you can bring them along as you arrive at specific findings, and give them plenty of opportunity to agree as you make this journey. Ultimately, clients don’t want slick creative executions—they want the right executions, those that solve their problems or help them reach their goals.
Essentially, the new business pitch is your chance to tell a story—the tale of how you arrived at a way to help the client to their goals. Underlying that tale is the story of how your agency thinks and works. The third “sub-plot” is all about connecting the agency and the client—to create the right chemistry, to make the client like you. Without that connection, your pitch will be set aside.
Remember the “WOW” factor. You need to combine a little theater with your facts to make your presentation “sticky.”
RFPs and the Pitch Team
Here are some additional findings from the RSW survey:
- Just 6% of respondents say their agencies never pitch new business. Forty-seven percent of agencies say they pitch about one time per quarter. This seems to indicate that a good number of agencies are carefully selecting which requests for proposal (RFPs) to respond to, or pursuing specific targets with an all-in pitch process. In fact, 20% say they respond to RFPs less than 10% of the time; 25% said they respond 26-50% of the time, with 27% saying they go for it 51-75% of the time. It’s important to assess each RFP to determine when or whether to respond, so you don’t waste agency time and resources.
- While 30.9% of agencies use the same pitch team for all pitches, nearly 62% mix in new pitch team members on every pitch. It may be beneficial to let multiple people in the agency participate and learn how to pitch, but RSW argues that a consistent pitch team becomes proficient at talking more about client needs than promoting the agency; and gives the agency more control over the pitch, with fewer unexpected moments. I.e., practice makes perfect.
As you prepare for your next pitch, give careful thought to how you make your presentation. Unless you have a creative idea so brilliant you just have to share it, refrain from fully developing a speculative, slick creative campaign. Instead, consider how to showcase your process, and seek to highlight the deep-dive research and fact-gathering that informs your strategic approach to problem-solving. Build trust and a sense of expertise, and prospects will more willingly give you a chance to deliver a great creative execution. But first, be seen as the smartest people at the pitch.