Brands Find It Painful to Address Agencies’ Most Pressing Pitching Problems

Brands Find It Painful to Address Agencies’ Most Pressing Pitching Problems

Steve’s breakdown: 4A’s and ANA surveyed marketers and agencies on what’s important. Read on . . .

EVERYWHERE, USA: Pitching for new business is filled with problems. Pitches are too long, often dragged out for no reason, expensive and filled with secrecy and a lack of communication and feedback.

A new initiative from the 4A’s and ANA reveals why brands and agencies bemoan the process: they aren’t even remotely on the same page.

We obtained a copy of a report the two trade organizations created after surveying leaders at 100 agencies and 41 clients to get their pulse on the state of new business pitching as part of the 4A’s/ANA Agency Search Simplification Initiative.

What they found are stark differences in the way agencies and clients view what agencies consider some of the most crucial parts of the pitching process, including whether agencies retain IP they pitched, budget size, who is participating and whether a win can be publicized. On the flip side, clients’ biggest pain points with agencies revolve around meeting the right members of the competing shops.

“We partnered with the ANA to identify both the challenges and opportunities for improving how we work across the industry together,” said Matthew Kasindorf, svp of business intelligence at the 4A’s. “Our intent is to foster an open dialogue and to improve how we collaborate at all stages of the review process.”

Agencies’ beef with clients

Most agencies really need to pick and choose their spots to chase new business via expensive pitches. One of the most jarring divergence of views on the pitch process comes in the form of information needed to make an informed decision on whether to enter a pitch. 98% of agencies said it’s valuable to know the size of the account, while 66% of agencies said it’s “painful” to not have direct access to the key decision makers.


From the brand perspective, only 23% of marketers said it’s relatively painless to provide the budget and 60% said providing the budget is valuable to the process. Brands also shy away from giving access to the decision makers without a consultant involved. Nearly half of marketers said it’s painful to make leaders available, and, more importantly, more than half of marketers said it provides no value to the process.

When deciding whether to pitch an account, multiple sources said in recent months that it’s critical for them to know which agencies are competing in a pitch to see if winning an account would be a long shot. This study backs up those accounts, as about a quarter of agencies find it painful if they don’t know who their competitors are. Meanwhile, 71% of brands don’t think providing a list of participating agencies provides value.

One of the biggest pain points for agencies, historically, is brands owning the IP/rights to any work created during the pitch process. More than 80% of agencies find this painful when it happens, and more than half of brands don’t find allowing agencies to retain IP valuable. Earlier this year, agencies indicated that pitching without retaining IP is on the decline as heads of new business indicated their agencies won’t agree to pitch without signing an agreement to own their work—or at least get paid a fair price for it.

There are a couple of key things that need to happen following a pitch, according to agencies.

Earlier this year, Sweat & Co. founder Jeff Sweat wrote an op-ed explaining the role of letting agencies PR their wins. The study found 66% of agencies find value in this, with 44% calling it painful to not be able to announce wins. Just 20% of brands find it valuable to let their agencies do this.

Feedback is also critical. Heads of new business explained earlier this year just how critical feedback is to improving their agencies. The study found two-thirds of agencies find it painful to not receive feedback, but only a quarter of brands call it painless to provide.

What brands need from agencies

The study provided less information about what improvements clients need from ad agencies, but the study boiled the info down to three main points:

  • Only 20% of brands said it’s “relatively painless” if they don’t meet the senior leadership that would oversee the business from the agency. Agencies largely believed this is a painless request to fulfill.
  • Nearly two-thirds of marketers said they need to also meet the day-to-day teams that would work on the account. Agencies were less reluctant to agree to this request, as agencies sometimes don’t figure out who would fully staff the account until after they’ve won the pitch.
  • Agencies also need to stick to the pitch’s guidelines, according to brands. More than half of brands are frustrated with shops that go off book.

Common ground

Having a concise, standardized RFI would help. The majority of brands and agencies agreed that would be valuable to the process, and the trade organizations have taken that step to improve the process. The 4A’s has released a standardized RFI form and in the U.K., the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) launched a “Pitch Positive Pledge” that include new guidelines for pitching. That pledge has drawn skepticism from members of the industry, including Brian Goodall, general manager of search consultant JLB+Partners.

At the Mirren Conference in May, he said, “They didn’t offer any suggestions for how to improve the pitch process. They just said that agencies are fed up and not going to take it anymore and we’re going to take charge. I didn’t see any mention of how they’re going to do that.”

Agencies also need to know who the key client decision-makers are and how much they will participate in the process. Only about 10% of brands said that would be painful to do, and both sides agree that it’s a valuable part of the process. Similarly, agencies and brands are on the same page about providing clear criteria ahead of a pitch. About 90% of agencies and brands said what agencies are being judged on should be clearly communicated, and less than half of brands say this is a pain to provide.

Agencies and brands are also aligned on how procurement and the client marketing teams should agree in advance on the criteria for picking an agency. 92% of agencies and brands said this was valuable, and fewer than half of brands said this was painful to do.

Brands and agencies also generally agreed on how problematic it is to not have a timeline that reflects the amount of work needed for the pitch. Less than 10% of agencies are OK with having unrealistic expectations, and only a quarter of brands find developing a fair timetable to be painful.

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