November 22, 2007

Perspectives on the Pathetic Pitch Process I sat through 5 sequential pitches this week and was dumbstruck by how ineffective the process is in helping buyers learn what agencies can do for them. The artifice of the stand up pitch was unproductive, pitiful and pathetic. Maybe in a world where finding a relationship is so difficult, I should have expected dysfunction but having been either a pitchman or a decision-maker so often I surprised myself at how awkward and flawed this familiar process is. Given how they meet and match, its no wonder that clients and agencies divorce at rates exceeding the collapse of individual relationships. If we are deconstructing the process let's start at the beginning with mismatched expectations. Clients identify agencies that look like they can do the job. The usual criteria are industry experience, service to like clients, previous gigs with competitors, contacts between the two sides; usually somebody knows or previously worked with somebody and agency brand awareness and reputation. My team constructed a list mixing big guys with specialist boutiques and floated a middling RFP to solicit the basic credentials. What we really wanted to find out was: 1. Can these guys really help us? Can they use their skills to move our needle not just do their usual act? 2. Will they really get to know us and our schtick or will they just apply a template approach and hope for the best? 3. Can these guys think about our business the way we do? Will they help us realize our goals? 4. Do they know anything we don't? Will we like being with them? Do they fit our style and pace? On the flip side agencies are looking to find clients that will pay top dollar at healthy margins on time, help grow the agency's reputation and bag of tricks, keep the agency team interested and engaged and not be too much of a pain in the ass. The agency guys really want to know ... 1. How much do these guys really know about what we do? Can we genuinely make an impact or will be just be somebody's bitch? Will they rely on our advice versus telling us what to do? 2. Every client says they want creativity. 80% buy plain vanilla. Are these guys in the risk-taking 20 percent and if so why? 3. How bureaucratic or process-driven are these guys? How many can say "no" versus how many and who can say "yes"? How much will they annoy, de-motivate and generally mess with us? 4. Can they pay the freight, will they nickel-and-dime us to death and are their pockets deep enough or flexible enough so that we can develop cutting edge new stuff on their dime? So into the conference room go two teams sitting around a table, collectively focused at a projected slide, occasionally looking the other side up-and-down wondering about haircuts, decolletage, accessories, VPL and nasal accents desperately hoping for something good to happen. Here's what generally happens: Big Guy Blabs. The senior agency person commands the presentation by leading the pitch and answering or parrying most questions. The senior person usually has the uncanny ability to put off the senior clients in record time. Everybody understands the ego at-play as much as they understand that the two scared, silent young ones wearing cheap suits sitting in the cheap seats will actually end up servicing the account after all the blovating is done. Big Idea Bombs. The agency bets the farm on a out-of-the box idea or a pedestrian idea that clearly indicates they don't understand the first thing about the client's business. This rhetorical Hail Mary pitch falls flat and the air goes out of the room like a tire with a fast leak. After its clear to both sides what a bomb the big idea has been neither side can wait to get out of the room. Bad Mix. The sides hate each other on sight. There is no mystery, chemistry or fantasy. Its like being at a bad freshman mixer. You feel like you're in the wrong place. You can't imagine being seen much less working with people who look, talk, act, think like those guys. You are viscerally and emotionally put off by the number, quantity and oddity of the fashion don'ts and fatties set before you. Bullshit Blab-a-Thon. The agency works through the slides and invites questions by saying , " We want this to be a dialog. We want to be your partners. So ask us...

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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