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.

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Why don’t clients use the ideas that win pitches for their business?

I started looking back on pitches we’ve made over the years.  It’s amazing how they’ve evolved.  In my first pitches we used 35mm slides and a projector!  Not surprisingly these were pretty simple presentations.  One thing that hasn’t changed since those early pitches is how rarely the ideas in those pitches actually get used.  When you think about it, it’s quite amazing.  Agencies spend hours and hours brainstorming ideas for pitches, knowing full well these ideas have a 1% chance of being used.  Why aren’t they used?  Well there are good reasons:

1.  When you are pitching you don’t know the full situation – for example you may have some ideas on how to launch a company or product.  When you get appointed you often find out that, say, the product doesn’t quite work the way they implied in the brief.

2.  The resources to actually do the pitch ideas don’t really exist.  Oh yes, the budget just got ‘trimmed.’

3.  The clients have other more immediate priorities. ‘Launch that product?  We need to solve this crisis before we do anything.’

These are all good reasons but they still shouldn’t result in so few ideas actually being  used.  I think instead what this shows is that clients don’t for a minute believe they will use the ideas that come in pitches.  Instead they want to ‘see how we think.’  This is where things also get messy.  When agencies pitch they often use more than the proposed account teams in their brainstorms.  In other words what clients sometimes see is thinking that came from people not in the room.  Worse than that, they sometimes get thinking from people in the room that won’t actually be working on the business.  This creates the illusion that they are getting the right thinking, without them actually getting the right thinking.  It’s a tough problem to solve but as I said earlier in the week, I think the pitch process has been broken for a long time.

Perhaps PR Week could have an award for the best idea that was in actually in a pitch AND got used.  And maybe one for the best  idea that didn’t get used…