By Amy Claridge, Head of Account Management, Rankin Creative
The traditional pitch process is broken. Hiring an agency should be about establishing a personalised, human relationship between people, founded on mutual trust and creativity. But procurement-led pitches completely dehumanise the process, while the pressure cooker environment is lethal for true creative thinking. Meanwhile, agencies are left with huge bills to pay as they pitch for brand after brand after brand.
This isn’t the way we have to do business. We can build more successful partnerships by rehumanising the process of hiring an agency and refocusing on what each side needs from the other. Both what the brand needs in an agency and, often overlooked however just as crucial, what the agency needs in a brand.
So what is the best way to go about humanising a brand and agency relationship?
The chemistry meeting. I always say that the relationship between a brand and an agency is like a marriage; the chemistry meeting is the all important first date. The brand gets to find out more about the agency’s niche and expertise, while the agency gets more insight into the brand. What questions are they asking? What challenges are they facing? What are they hoping to achieve? Getting that information early on is crucial to not only getting to know one another on a personal yet professional level, but also for the agency to be able to provide their best work during the pitch.
So, the chemistry meeting certainly has a critical role to play. It’s sometimes brushed over by both brands and agencies, especially in this post-Covid era where we’re used to speaking through a computer screen. But the chemistry meeting alone can shape the entire client-agency relationship and set the tone for the rest of the partnership.
It’s an opportunity to establish trust and shared values, and for the agency to work out which mix of personalities and characters will form the best team for the brand. Without the chemistry meeting, the agency is blind, and the brand won’t get the best out of the pitch.
Most importantly, the chemistry meeting gives agencies the chance to decide whether they should be pitching at all. Pitching isn’t a numbers game – you shouldn’t do as many as you can in hopes of winning one. It should be about knowing what your agency wants in a client and finding the right opportunities. If an agency can’t justify the reason for pitching, then they shouldn’t be wasting the time and resource.
We don’t want to rip up any rule books here, but we do want brands who are open to change and improving upon what they already have. We need to feel that we can understand the team as people, and in turn, operate as an extension of their team.
Open communication channels are therefore key, both during the pitch and beyond. Brands don’t always realise how important it is for agencies to get information and how deflating it can be when questions are met with a slammed door. While there needs to be parameters in place to ensure a fair pitch process for everyone, brands need to provide the right ingredients so an agency can showcase their best work.
We also look at whether we can make a difference to that brand and do amazing work for them. There are three things we do really well: luxury, landing a brand within culture, and engaging hard to reach audiences both through traditional advertising and alternative mediums. If what a brand needs doesn’t fall within our expertise, it’s our responsibility to sense check ourselves.
And all agencies want to work with brands where there is mutual excitement to work together. Again, it comes back to just being human - it’s like dating really - you wouldn’t go into a relationship with someone where there’s no passion, common interests, or future together.
Walking away from a pitch can be scary for agencies, especially smaller ones. There’s the fear of not getting another chance, being overlooked in future, or brands not taking you seriously. There’s no doubt it takes guts, but often it’s the right thing to do. And I expect we’ll see more and more agencies making those decisions in the near future.
Building a successful partnership
To find the best long-term partners, I’d argue brands should avoid the formal tender altogether. It’s not the best way to understand one another and see what an agency can really do, or what that working relationship will be like. Brands should look for other personable ways to give agencies a chance - speed dating, for example.
Some of our best and biggest partnerships have started not with a big pitch process, but with small projects given to us by a brand which understands our team and the expertise our agency offers. Starting small allows you to understand how each other work and communicate, to determine whether you have the right team to deliver for the brand, and to grow the partnership organically.
Plus, the brand gets amazing work out of the agency which they can actually use (unlike pitch work), and they get to know the real team they’ll be working with (not a pitch team they might never see again).
This is the direction the industry needs to head in. While moving away from the formal tender is going to take time, the appetite from agencies is huge, and more and more brands are seeing the value they get when they hire agencies in alternative ways. Heightened creativity, a better experience, and a human relationship based on trust and communication.