During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, brands and agency partners have developed new, remote ways of working. Pitching has moved online as well, with both advertisers and agencies adjusting established processes, often with the help of independent consultants who have pivoted to help redesign the process for the virtual world.
Initially, brands reacted to the pandemic by pausing pitch processes already under way or postponing planned ones. As a result, fewer pitches occurred in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, worth half as much in terms of billings. However, activity has picked up again and should remain robust going into next year. COMvergence’s analysis of the agency selection and pitch market in the first half of 2020 noted that more pitches are taking place in China (27 percent of all pitches in H1 2020) and the U.S. (26 percent) than in any other territories.
Many aspects of virtual pitching work well, including low to no travel, lower costs, increased agility and broader access to clients. This recent experience has yielded a few lasting lessons that players across the industry can take forward to 2021 and beyond. Some elements, however, remain less optimal, such as attention deficit, Zoom fatigue and the barrier to building chemistry across a screen. While some have embraced virtual pitching, others look forward to the day we can return to conference tables for an in-person pitch safely.
In the meantime, these three core recommendations should help readers make the most of pitching in our new world:
Get active even before the pitch.
Virtual pitching allows you to get some elements of a traditional pitch out of the way before you hear the agency’s strategic and creative recommendations. Offer all agencies the opportunity to have equal and fair access to some key members of your team between first briefing and final pitch. Encourage tissue meetings for agencies to share initial thinking so you can have a more productive final pitch meeting.
Hold commercial negotiations before the pitch.
Appointing a new agency partner can be held up by the commercials. You meet a team with the right ideas and decide you want to work with them. But before you can start the new relationship, your finance and procurement colleagues must negotiate media, creative or platform rates and costs. Pitching virtually takes less time than in person—essentially because of the lack of travel, particularly for big regional and global pitches. For that reason, finance, procurement and third-party consultants gain an opportunity to effectively negotiate commercial terms before the pitch.
Run a tight process.
There are lots of elements to think of here—starting with the choice of presentation and meeting platform, preparing for the meetings with appropriate briefings, and thinking ahead on appropriate questions. Be sure your team receiving the pitch meets to get into the right mindset and has read any pre-reads to support the pitch that the agency may have sent through. Throughout lockdown, many working from home have grown used to multitasking—attending a budget meeting while dealing with emails or similar. Multitasking creates an unfair landscape for agency pitches; all parties involved deserve full attention for the work put in to prepare the pitch. Allow all agencies a fair and equal amount of time to present their ideas. Appoint a member of your team as the timekeeper to keep the meetings on schedule and ensure fairness between participating agencies. If you allocate two hours per agency, allow up to 10 minutes for setup, introductions and pleasantries, and build at least a couple of quick comfort breaks into each pitch.
The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed all of us into new ways of working. All stakeholders in the process—from brands to agencies to suppliers—can make the most of this opportunity by considering these factors. In doing so, we can yield a more effective evaluation process that might just carry over into in-person when the time comes.
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