Is the PR pitch process back to front?

PR agencies know the ropes.  You get invited to pitch for a certain account against other firms.  You then throw a ton of time and effort into it.  At some point it becomes clear that you’ve been chosen by the internal team and then you are passed over to procurement to ‘dot the Is and cross the Ts.’  In most cases that process is also quite familiar.  Procurement comes with a huge list of things they want agencies to give up (most of them involve some form of discount).  Now most procurement departments are quite reasonable while some push things to the limit.  I don’t really blame them, after all it’s their job.  But what this can result in is a situation where you simply can’t accept the terms the procurement people are seeking and you have to walk away.  This is frustrating for everyone concerned.  Should we therefore consider negotiating the contract and financial terms before pitching?  I appreciate that may mean more work for procurement as they may have to try and negotiate with all the potential vendors.  However, they could also simply say these are our terms and if you accept them you can pitch.  If you don’t then you should withdraw now.  Such an approach would save everyone a LOT of time and money and would result in clients only getting pitches from people willing to accept their terms.  As I say, I have nothing against procurement departments being aggressive.  Again, it’s their job to get the best deal for their business.  What is frustrating for the agency is this notion that if you win the pitch that you should then be prepared to sign up to terms that don’t work for your business.  To be clear, this post doesn’t relate to a certain pitch we’ve been involved in.  In truth it related to several that have taken place in the last few months.  Just want to propose a better way for client and the agency to get engaged.

Time for the social PR pitch process?

Let’s face it, PR pitches have all become very similar.  All agencies present some research showing they understand the problem, some measurable objectives and then some creative, strategies, tactics and costs.  There may be one or two additional elements to please a certain client but that is about it.  Aware that many agencies use their best people to create pitches and their best sales people to deliver pitches, clients ask to see the ‘real team’ on the day.  In other words they want to interview the team they’d get to work with.  Makes sense.  But all this has started to change now that digital has come on the scene.  The team, their thinking, ideas and their research are all still important but now agencies are also presenting digital content and in many cases technology created by specialists that will rarely interact with the client (for good reason).  This is a world that the advertising agencies are very familiar with.  They are used to having a person who manages the client relationship and then draws on the skills of a great many people, many of which the client never sees.  And so the pendulum swings back in the other direction, leaving the client with the challenge of trying to base their decision on the quality of ideas presented, the track record of the agency and in all likelihood the personality of their account handler.  This is far from ideal for the client and suggests that some work to change the process is required.  With that in mind, may I suggest the social pitch process?

We have all become very used to social networks and social media.  Perhaps we can create a process that embraces ‘social’ to enable better decisions for the client.  Imagine the client puts its RFP out on a Ning or Grouply like site.  Agencies are then invited to work collaboratively with them on refining the brief, through a series of conversations.  With a better brief (which agency has not wanted to improve the brief?) the agency can then start to use social tools to develop concepts and campaigns that demonstrate their thinking and also the roles of the people at the agency.  Instead of a client seeing who presented an idea, they could see who came up with it and how others worked on it and made it what it is.  The client can test out over a period of days the thinking, enthusiasm and skills of a broader team than was ever possible in the 90 minute pitch they have today.  I should be clear, I’m not envisioning a process limited to short blog posts, tweets etc.  I’m envisioning a process that includes video chats, group discussions AS WELL AS blog posts, tweets etc.

I doubt for a minute that many firms will have the nerve to hire an agency just by using a social approach but I do hope that a large enough number wake up to the fact that digital has changed the PR game and that we should embrace it in the way agencies are hired, not just in the work we expect from them.

Some people never learn

One of the Next Fifteen agencies just won a good piece of business. When the client called the losing finalists for the business, one of the firms was gracious and thanked the client for allowing them to take part and said they knew the agency they had chosen was a good firm but that they were obviously disappointed to lose etc. The other losing firm was much less gracious and told the client they’d made a bad choice etc. Guess how the client reacted? You got it. The client thought the first agency was professional and would certainly consider them for any future work. They thought the second agency was rude and arrogant and someone they’d never again consider.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard such a tale. In every case the agency that takes defeat badly suffers even more in the long run. Meanwhile the ones who are gracious keep doors open for the future. Is the lesson really that hard to learn?