Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Agencies Win

   Frequently, the difference between winning and losing a pitch is very small. The second place team may not have done a bad job; it may just be that the first place team was a little bit better. Two aspects of a pitch that can help to give winning agencies the edge are clarity and discipline.

    Clarity in a pitch setting means that the client understands exactly what your agency stands for and what your agency is recommending for the brand. If you are expecting a company to select your agency based on the new business equivalent of speed-dating, you’d better have something provocative to say. Simply explaining how well you understand the market along with a few bland strategic ideas is not going to get it done. Clients are looking for something to remember you by, and it often takes something thought provoking to stick in their heads.
    Think about your strategic recommendations at your last pitch. Were those recommendations something that any agency could have developed? While believing that your staff are the best and the brightest is nice, smart people are working at every agency, and they just may have come up with the same strategic ideas as you did. For example, recommending that a biotech firm focus on the science for the launch of its new monoclonal antibody may well be the right strategy, but it is hard to believe that five other agencies would not land in the same place. This does not mean that the ideas are wrong; the ideas are just not helping you become memorable to the client or differentiate yourself from the other agencies.

    Remember that you are trying to win the pitch, and providing clear strategic and creative recommendations may not be enough to do the job; those recommendations need to put distance between you and the competition. Me-too or unclear messages will not provide you with that distance.

    Another characteristic of winning agencies is discipline. Your agency can call upon many resources during a pitch, but the most important and finite resource that you are working with is time. Every agency is working on virtually an identical schedule. The winning agency cannot use a worm hole to manufacture more time than the competition; that agency simply makes better use of its most valuable resource.

    Discipline refers to the amount of time it takes to get to a strategy, creative brief, creative review, refining the deck, rehearsing, etc. I understand that a better brief will lead to better creative and so on. I also understand that the clock is ticking and sometimes, most times, you will need to work off a creative (or strategic) calendar that is not ideal. Winning agencies always seem to find the proper balance of time spent researching, thinking, creating, decking, and rehearsing.

    Another aspect of discipline is the discipline around deadlines. During the compact schedule of a pitch, even missing a deadline by just one day or even half a day can sometimes be beyond recovery. This is one of the reasons that a pitch leader is so important.  A pitch leader needs to drive the process forward and make sure that everyone adheres to deadlines.

    Discipline also applies to your messages and creative. Are you mixing strategic messages just to appease two members of the pitch team? If so, the client is left with a muddled message, creating a clarity issue. Poor discipline from a creative standpoint typically leads to work that is being shown for any number of reasons (it is beautiful, someone worked really hard on the concept, etc) but is not on strategy. We can argue whether clients can measure the subtle artistry of a concept, but most of us would agree that all clients can tell whether work is on strategy or not.

    While clarity and discipline are not a guarantee of success, a lack of clarity and discipline is almost certainly a guarantee of failure. The difference between the winning pitch and the second place pitch is often very small, so attention to detail can make the difference.

Mark Schnurman
President -- Filament Inc.
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