The Insights Blog

How Clients and Agencies can Win the “Virtual” Chemistry Check

How Clients and Agencies can Win the “Virtual” Chemistry Check


As Mercer Island Group’s Robin Boehler likes to say, the pitch process is like dating. There are good dates, and bad dates. The virtual chemistry check has become a regular part of the dating process, and it will be costly for those that ignore this reality.

Starting with the obvious: chemistry is important in a pitch. In the hundreds of agency reviews we’ve managed we have seen a theme emerge: chemistry plays a role well beyond likability. If the chemistry is better, both parties often think the potential partner is smarter and more talented and a better selection. Also obvious is that some amount of videoconferencing is here to stay as part of most pitch processes. It’s easier, more cost effective and can be done well. If the agency comes across poorly, they likely lose the pitch. If a prospective client comes across poorly, they will likely have a less enthusiastic agency and probably pay more for that agency’s services.

So, given the importance of chemistry and the need to nail the “virtual” meeting, what are the biggest dangers to each party that need to be overcome or avoided?

Let’s start with the client since there is only a pitch if the client is interested.


An engaged client wins the chemistry check; unengaged clients fail.

This is so straightforward! Agencies want to work with clients that lean in. Clients that ask questions for understanding. Clients that remember the very basics of working with agency partners.

This is so obvious and yet we often see clients fail on the most basic ingredients of working well with an agency. An appealing client is engaged and keeps the following rules of the road in mind:

  • They ask questions to understand the ideas and agency proposal, not to test the agency
  • They take their time – collecting their thoughts and ensuring they are clear before speaking
  • They respond like the target might
  • And they do that honestly but with humility and sensitivity
  • They give the reasoning behind their comments
  • They state the problem they have and not the solution
  • They are appreciative regardless of whether they like the work

The indicated action here for clients is straightforward: be engaging and come across as people the agency really wants to work with.


An agency team that is genuine and conversational wins the chemistry check.

Clients want to see the real people they will work with. They aren’t looking for perfectly rehearsed and scripted shows. They want to see the real people genuinely and authentically talking about their business.

The biggest risk to a poor chemistry check during a videoconference happens when an agency’s presenters are clearly reading from a script. This is so easy to do in a videoconference – and it is an awful way to build chemistry. The client knows you can read. They want to see if you can think and communicate.

How can agencies accomplish this? Certainly rehearsal is critical. But not for memorization! Clients do not want to hear from mechanical scripted machine-like presenters. The presentation is a precious moment where the client gets a feel for the agency’s people. Let them get the genuine feel!


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.