The single biggest characteristic of winning agencies is that they have a clear leader for every pitch. Rather than a bunch of people who think they are the leader, a team needs a very clear, one-to-one relationship: one leader for one pitch.
The pitch leader’s primary role is to keep the process moving. The leader is the final arbiter when there is a discussion about things such as strategy or creative. This does not mean that the leader makes every decision. It does mean that this individual makes sure a decision is made and that the process keeps moving.
Far too often agencies get derailed discussing a subtlety of strategy or creative when they would have been better served to move on with the process. The pitch leader needs to remind the team that the clock is ticking, and every minute the team spends on the particular topic at hand is one less minute that they have for the rest of the process.
The natural question becomes who should be the leader.
The advantage of the new business person becoming the leader is that this individual frequently sourced the lead and is very connected to the prospect. He is frequently a very strong strategic person with a great understanding of the new business process. While these are great advantages, the one disadvantage can be huge: no one on the pitch team reports to him. As a result, he can persuade and cajole pitch team members to do their jobs, but he has no hammer. To make matters worse, it is his rear-end in a sling if he loses the pitch. To sum up, the new business person is responsible for winning and is compensated and evaluated on the agencies win rate, but he has virtually no power to get people to execute the pitch. Not an enviable scenario.
The creative director can be a good choice because a large part of the pitch process and a good deal of the last minute work is in her department. She is the best person to crack the whip on the creative department, and she understands the numerous issues that can come up in the creative department during a pitch. There are two basic disadvantages. The first is that it can be difficult to get account services and strategy to listen to the creative director. The second is that process orientation is typically not a term used to describe creative directors, and the ability to stick to a process is very important in working a team through a pitch.
Similar to the creative director, the head of account services or strategy can make a good leader. The advantage is that a good portion of the team reports to him, and he is likely more process and schedule driven than a creative director. The disadvantage is that the creative team does not report to him, and he is not as tuned into the creative process as a creative director. This can lead to a certain amount of resentment when the pitch leader is trying to drive the creative team to stop tweaking and start rehearsing when that pitch leader has never been in that art director’s chair and does not understand the creative process.
The head of the agency is the obvious choice for a number of reasons. Everyone reports to her, so she should have no problem motivating people. Sticking to the process should not be an issue for her. But even the agency head has a few potential downsides that need to be addressed. First, the pitch leader needs to be at most, if not all, of the meetings. If the leader is not present, the leadership vacuum can grind the process to a halt. The second is that the leader needs to be careful to lead the process and not simply take over the process. Because of their role at the agency, suggestions made by managing directors and CEO are frequently taken as mandates by well-meaning staff. As a result, the process can turn into one person’s thinking.
While it may seem as if there is no ideal pitch leader, by simply managing the disadvantages of each potential leader’s role, you can develop a strong pitch process. I have seen people from each role be great pitch leaders, and I have seen people from each role fall prey to the disadvantages listed above. The key is insure that you have one person running the show. While we can discuss which person will make the best pitch leader, typically a committee will have all of the disadvantages listed above without any of the strengths. This is not to say that a committee can’t work, but you will make the process more difficult and painful than it needs to be.