Whether you’re calling a pitch to replace an agency already on your roster, or to add new capabilities, it’s only natural to be focused on getting the best agency for the job. Unfortunately, that can also mean you forget the impact the process can have on your team, your other agencies, and the work that needs to be done while the pitch process is going on.
Most pitches take between three and four months to complete—that’s a long time for senior staff to have their attention taken away from their normal responsibilities. It’s also a lot of time for rumours and uncertainty to spread, both within your organisation and among the rest of your roster.
In my 20 years at AAR, I’ve helped a lot of clients through the pitch process, and there are a few things I always recommend to make things run smoothly—for staff, for incumbent agencies, and also for whoever the newcomer turns out to be.
Communication Is Key
The most important thing to think about before you call a pitch is communication. A lot of people are going to need to know what’s happening over the next three or four months, and keeping everyone informed in a timely and consistent way will help make sure the normal work of the marketing department continues and the transition to the new agency happens smoothly.
Before any of that, the first conversation you need to have is with the agency you’re planning to replace. As with any break-up, telling the other party is always difficult, but it needs to happen. First, they deserve to hear about it from you rather than secondhand, and, second, you need to maintain a professional working relationship with them during pitching and handover.
Managing “Business As Usual”
About three-quarters of pitches are called to review and possibly replace an existing roster agency. If your pitch is one of these, you need to think about how you’re going to maintain business as usual, particularly just after the pitching period.
Most incumbent agencies are on three months’ notice. If most pitch processes take between three and four months, that means you’re almost certain to have a gap between one agency finishing and a new one starting. Added to that, the new agency will take time to get up to speed. You need to plan carefully to avoid a significant drop in both the quantity and quality of your marketing activity during that time.
Re-appraising Your Approach
Changing agency partners gives you the perfect opportunity to look at your own internal working practices and identify what needs to continue, what could be improved, and what you need to stop doing. You can even make the establishment of new working practices part of the pitch brief. And when you’re telling the rest of your roster about the pitch, you can use the opportunity to ask them what changes they would recommend to make collaboration easier.
You should also think about where you might need new processes to make sure the new client/agency relationship is established quickly, particularly if teams outside the marketing department are involved.
And if the hiring of a new agency is part of a new approach—localisation or decoupling production, for example—this is the time to think about the potential impact on roles and responsibilities within the department, as well as on the work being done by your other agencies and how they’re doing it.
So before you call the pitch, here are the seven things we recommend our clients do:
1. Talk to your incumbent agency. You need them to keep working for you as normal during the pitch process. You also want a sensible handover arrangement. And you certainly want to avoid holding back work for when the new agency starts, so they’re not swamped with requests when they should be concentrating on what you’ve hired them to do.
2. Make sure your team knows what’s going to happen. This includes why you called the pitch, what the process will be, and how long you expect it to take. They also need to know what to do if they are contacted by the press about the pitch, and how to handle any approaches from your roster agencies looking to expand their remit. It’s also vital to keep them updated with how things are going throughout the process.
3. Keep the rest of the business informed. You should brief anyone who might be affected by the hiring of a new agency before the pitch process starts. This is a great opportunity to align agendas more closely within the business, for example around IT, budgets, or UX.
4. Tell the rest of your roster what’s going on. This should be done by the client lead, either face to face or on the phone. You can allay any suspicions your agencies may have that this is the start of a roster-wide review, and you can also start preparing them for how you want them to work with the new agency.
5. Plan your PR strategy. Make sure your press team has been fully briefed and knows what the key messages are.
6. Plan for senior staff being involved in the pitch process. Think about what temporary changes you might need to make to avoid the absence of senior staff affecting the rest of the department’s work.
7. Plan your department’s workloads for the first six to 12 months of the new agency’s contract. Decide on their immediate priorities, then work out what they will need to know to meet them and where that knowledge will come from. You should also work out what else they will be expected to deliver and to what timescales. Then you can assess whether any elements can be postponed or handed over to other agencies.
If you do all this before the pitch process starts, not only will things run more smoothly, you’ll also find it much easier to assess the pitching agencies in the context of your overall approach and the rest of your roster, which should lead to better results in the long term.
This is the first article in a series of three. Next time we’ll look at the pitch process itself and how to manage it to get the best result.