COVID-19 Pitch Advice

RUNNING AGENCY SERVICES PITCHES DURING THE PANDEMIC

Principles

These apply to all reviews but require extra attention now:

1. Take sufficient time to consider why you want the review/search. Clearly define what you need that a current roster agency or internal group can’t provide. What is working and not on both sides – client and current agencies.
2. Clarity on what type of agency you need and the focus such as data driven, digital first, etc.
3. Think about the long list of agencies that might fit your needs. (Use haystackonline.com as a start point) For media, if you need a global agency of scale, there are a finite number. But for other types of agencies there are thousands and unless your knowledge of the market is current, you need time to explore the universe directly or with help.

Best Practices for Conducting a New Agency Search During the Pandemic 

Questionnaire/RFI Phase 

The basics will stay the same, but a successful client will go a step or two further to better set the stage in selecting agencies and learning about the agency team.

Selecting the agencies:


If ever there is a time to do homework on the agencies, it’s now. Prepare or have your consultants prepare a long list of agencies that fit your specific requirements. Rather than automatically sending them your mutual NDA and then your RFI, consider pre-reference checking. For example, recently hired client staff members’ experience with candidate agencies, network with the ISBA members or other colleagues who work with potential agencies to learn their thoughts about the culture. Now is the time to understand how the agencies have adapted their working whilst so many will be working from home or have been furloughed. Alternatively, we could help to determine how they are operating or how they plan to work as lockdown restrictions are relaxed, without revealing you may be considering a pitch.

For media, if transparency is critical, do pre-work to more thoroughly learn agency policies and practices.

Getting to know each other:

Clients should take time to describe their client culture honestly and thoroughly in the agency brief and initial RFI – many RFI’s don’t share enough about the client and are not as clear as they must be now. Share more detailed client bios than you might have in the past. 

Clients should try to be very specific in defining the agency team members’ “job descriptions” and qualifications for success on the client’s account – and request more detailed relevant biographies to match these specs earlier in the search process. Requesting a video or other personality-infused examples of the team may help you short track getting to know the team. 

To understand how to draw-out cultural fit when you can’t visit the agency in person and the agency employees themselves are not together we include a few further ideas that may help you on your way.  
 

Initial Engagement with the Agency

1. Ensure the meeting technology is robust to enable effective video meetings. It can be the case that the agencies’ technology is far superior to your own. 
2. Spread out meetings if they are via video. Back-to-back video calls are more fatiguing than back-to-back in person. 
3. Clients need to fully prepare for each meeting and have discussions (scorecards) after.
4. Set limits on the number of people from each side who will join the call – a sea of 20 faces makes it harder to focus. Consider sub-meetings by discipline or brand experts if necessary.
5. Define objectives for a video call to use time productively. In the past, all you had to think about was an AV hook up. Now you need to plan a clear agenda if the call is going to be 45, 60 or 90 minutes. Research shows extra fatigue on lengthy video calls without a clear purpose. We recommend that agencies pre-submit any presentation material so that the client can pre-read it. 
6. Note taking is harder on video calls. If the agency is taking notes you are looking at the top of their eyeglasses or temples. Exchange “paperwork” (briefs, research, etc.) so the video call can focus on the people and discussion. Assign one person to take notes.
7. Design some elements of video calls to get to know the people and culture. You will be surprised how creatively the agency will respond to this request. 

Final Pitch Meetings 

1. Cultural fit can be really important – meetings that are not just about the response could still be incorporated into the process. Light-hearted questions such as, what is it about a client that would make you walk on hot coals for them. How would we collectively celebrate the end of lockdown, should you be appointed, could reveal the type of team you are talking to. 
2. Agencies presenting work for ongoing clients are now used to presenting via video platforms. Explore good collaboration tools and systems that allow for the “post its” to share thoughts. 
3. Again asking for a really tight presentation (10 slides) in advance of the pitch, can really help you understand the clarity of thought and keep the presentation meeting more conversational and an altogether richer engagement. 
4. Look to agencies for their ideas – they are doing more virtual reviews than you are.  
5. Don’t be seduced by agencies with the best technology. Its their thinking and their ability to implement that will be important to you for the long term. 

If you would like any further help or advice, please don't hesitate to contact us on pitches@thehaystackgroup.com