Written by Barry O’Neil and Lindsay O’Neil
If you’re going to commit your agency’s time and resources to a pitch process, we say go “all in” and don’t wait for the final presentation to show your cards. There’s simply no reason to participate if you can’t commit 100% to showing your agency off in the best light.
“Showing your cards” means not holding anything back at each stage. Sharing ideas or recommendations early on, even as thought exercises or framed as, “We’ve done this for [client] and think it may work for you,” can help your case. Too often we need to give feedback at certain points in the process that, “You didn’t bring what they asked for, so the client didn’t have anything to react to.” Of course, given the realities of workload and timelines, or even lack of input from the client, sometimes you can’t put polished recommendations together in time for certain steps. We understand that. What’s less understandable is when agencies rationalize that showing their thinking too soon takes away from the presentation’s impact (it doesn’t).
Sharing the appropriate level of research, insights, or recommendations at each step gives the client team a chance to react, even if (especially if) you’re wrong on something. Better to find out that a bad assumption led you in the wrong direction before you get in the presentation room.
Committing 100% means showing up at each step of the process fully prepared. For a process like MIG’s, here’s how you do that:
Written RFI Response
- What it entails: sharing information about your firm, experience, and capabilities, as well as carefully selected case studies.
- What’s expected: answer all the questions in a clear and easy-to-follow format.
- How to go all in: write a cover letter that speaks to the client’s needs and issues. Be client focused throughout. Share early research about the situation and how you might help.
- What not to do: anything less than what is asked. Don’t pull a response entirely off the shelf. Don’t send every case study you have – choose wisely!
- What it entails: asking the client questions about their business and challenges.
- What’s expected: prepare a list of questions and use the full time (it’s noticed when you don’t).
- How to go all in: bring a combo of strategic questions (business issues, concerns, past efforts) and tactical questions (tech, channel mix, collaboration). Do your homework so your questions show knowledge of their business and industry.
- What not to do: don’t use the time to talk about your agency; the client should do most of the talking. Handle pitch-process questions separately.
- What it entails: laying out early thinking, strategies, or solutions for the client to give feedback on.
- What’s expected: bring fleshed-out work to get the added benefit of a round of revisions before the pitch and a chance to dig in deeper with the client.
- How to go all in: show all your cards! Walk the client through the research and analysis that led you to your insights and strategy. Take them on the journey. Ask for feedback – did you get it right? Did you miss anything? Then give a few directions the strategy could go in.
- What not to do: don’t come with fluff – this is the time to put some stakes in the ground. Don’t immediately roll into solutions without the setup, and don’t offer too many directions to choose from. Don’t hold your cards until the final round, as in the worst case, you may not get there.
Final Pitch Presentation
- What it entails: presenting your brilliant solution to the business challenge!
- What’s expected: if you’ve shown your hand during the tissue, you should know exactly what to present here. You’ve done the prep and are knowledgeable enough to pivot when questions arise.
- How to go all in: do the work. No client should expect to see market-ready work (whether creative, a media plan, a comms plan, etc.), but showing something tangible shows them how you turn thought into action. Ideally, you already did this in the tissue. If your policy is to never do anything approaching spec work, go as far as you’re willing so the client gets a sense of how you work. Know that the rest of the field will go as far as you did, and likely farther.
- What not to do: don’t talk about the agency (sound familiar?). Don’t assume everyone was at the tissue. (It never hurts to ask who’s seen what.) Don’t leave any ask from the RFP unaddressed – this may be your last chance to do so.
Simply put, if you don’t feel you can go all in, it’s best to bow out of a pitch before accepting a spot. Once you’re in, don’t hold anything back for the presentation – showing your cards ahead of time gives the client a chance to react, and ideally sets the stage for a truly collaborative relationship before it’s formally started.
Barry O’Neil has led numerous agency/vendor searches and client/agency relationship management 360 review processes for clients such as CFA Institute, TrueCar, Logan’s Roadhouse, UScellular, Ulta Beauty, Clarisonic, CenturyLink, CustomInk and many others. He has also participated in corporate restructuring initiatives, client process realignment initiatives, and agency new business reviews and pitch/positioning consulting.
Lindsay O’Neil has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising and Social. She has led numerous agency searches, 360 reviews, strategic insights workshops, and the development of marketing prioritization, workflows and productive IATs. She has also worked with agencies on new business development and pitch/positioning consulting. Lindsay has worked with a wide range of clients and agencies across multiple industries including FreshDirect, Barre3, Envestnet, Brooks Running, Zillow, Continental Mills, Belk, Insulet, Curious Jane, and Callahan.