The Insights Blog

Ditch the Pitch, or Win the Pitch?

Ditch the Pitch, or Win the Pitch?


A recent report on pitch practices in the US suggested that agency pitches could cost over $1 million. Many in the industry jumped on that news and railed against pitching. The topic of pitches seems to be an easy way to bring out the pitch forks and torches!

Pitching CAN be expensive. Some pitches ARE run horribly, take too long and require enormous client and agency investment. Cattle calls DO happen. SOME consultants skip important steps in order to claim how much faster their process is. SOME consultants and organizations add unnecessary steps. And SOME consultants actually charge agencies to be involved in pitches. There certainly ARE some very bad pitch behaviors.

There are also many clients and consultants that run very respectful reviews that help clients select the ideal partner and leave the participating agencies with valuable feedback and learning even when they don’t win.

With all of the nuance and noise, how should clients and agencies think about whether they Ditch the Pitch or go full throttle and Win the Pitch?

Ditch the Pitch?
Before we discuss whether you should Ditch the Pitch or work to Win the Pitch, I think it’s helpful to keep a few important pitch realities in mind.
  1. Not all pitches are hugely expensive for either the client or the agencies

  2. The largest accounts usually move via a competitive review

  3. The client that needs to select an agency often has a great deal at stake – their job could literally depend on selecting the right agency

  4. Competitive pitching is a normal business practice in industries that view the selected partner as a key growth or success driver (everything from architecture to aircraft).
There are also important marketplace and industry realities that agencies should consider. Some may be rather surprising. For example:
  • There are thousands of agencies in the US. And many are really excellent.

  • Clients typically have very low unaided awareness of agencies. In our reviews, most clients can only name a handful of agencies and those are usually giant in size or reputation.

What does that mean regarding pitches? The agency selection process is so important that clients will continue to evaluate agencies in competitive processes. This isn’t because of a lack of respect for the agencies! Rather, it’s because there is so much respect for the difference making potential of the right client/agency partnership.

Keep in mind that clients have an ample selection to choose from AND most well-known agencies will pitch for the right opportunity. We know because many have participated in reviews we have managed.

What does that mean for agencies? Ditch the Pitch favors a small group of very large or very well-known agencies.

Competitive pitches are an important way that smaller or newer, less well-known agencies get chances at these bigger opportunities. Pitches open the playing field. Pitches allow clients to consider agencies they didn’t previously know existed. They provide David with the opportunity to slay Goliath. And David often slays Goliath in our reviews!

There is a strong alternative to Ditch the Pitch: Win the Pitch.

Win the Pitch
How can agencies increase their odds at winning, delivering a better ROI on their biz dev efforts?
  1. Be more selective with your pitch participation. Create practical filters and use them. Only pitch for accounts that are worth the trouble and that you have a right to win.

  2. Develop a deep understanding of the business issues that the client needs help solving. Most agencies won’t.

  3. With the business challenge identified, dive into the target audience, competition and brand for strategic insights that can drive compelling solutions.

  4. Be clear about how the insight(s) developed will drive effective tactics.

  5. Go all in. Other agencies will. If you don’t, you’ll lose.

Of course, clients also play a very important role. The clients that truly Win the Pitch run respectful reviews, with ample time and manageable expectations. The brief is strong and clear. The agencies get great feedback. They often lean on experienced consultants that keep the best interests of both the client AND the agencies in mind.

Should you pitch when you have an opportunity? That decision is one that can only be answered by the agency in question, with knowledge of the agency’s budget, resources, growth goals and pipeline. Hopefully these observations will help agencies choose the path that best fits their situation.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.