These ideas are great! Why didn’t we see them before?

I had the distinct pleasure of spending three days with our UK colleagues in London at Flagship Consulting, a Peppercomm company. Today’s guest blog is penned by Mark Pinnes who, having worked on both the client and agency sides of the business, provides keen insights into handling the most difficult question an incumbent agency MUST answer in any review. – RepMan

How the Mini-Pitch can help you avoid the agency kiss of death.

58063110“This just a process we have to go through.” Your longstanding client calls to tell you the bad news, it’s a re-pitch. You love the client and now they have a new head honcho, so you don’t mind being asked to showcase your talent and refresh the account.

You mobilise the agency and generate a killer campaign that will see the account through the next two to five years. On pitch day it’s going wonderfully well – they’re nodding, smiling, laughing at all the right bits. And then the senior decision maker kills you, “These ideas are great! Why didn’t we see them before?”

It’s over. Pack up your bags and leave.

Firstly a confession, while I’m an agency guy now, I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I was lucky to serve as the Head of Media relations for one of the UK’s top firms, and then oversaw about a dozen agencies for an international tech business. As a client I found myself uttering these killer words on more than one occasion, and it got me thinking – could it be my fault – as a client?

If the agency didn’t offer the right idea before, there really are only a few possible reasons;
– A lack of understanding of the brief or inadequate client feedback
– The agencies best thinkers are rolled out for pitches – which is a miss on their part
– Account drift (laziness)
– Budget

That is one responsibility each for the agency and client, and two shared. So yes, it was my fault.
I tried five or six approaches to solve the problem of ‘how to stimulate on-going world class ideas from the agency roster” over and above their high quality regular work. Here is the one that routinely produced the best results: the mini-pitch.

A few times a year, we would put aside a small amount of budget for planning, and a project fee – this was outside of the normal retainer, and used a different pool of agency hours – it wasn’t a huge amount, but it must be distinct. The symbolism is important, as is the sense of competition.

We issued a ‘new’ brief to a selection of agencies from across the roster and asked / funded them to invest time and effort into generating a plan that would work across all marketing disciplines. The best plan would ‘win’ the business – and these ideas would supercharge the retainer work across the marketing mix for all the agencies. The winning agency would operate as the hub for that piece of work- obviously gaining exposure for their agency, and serious kudos.

This methodology taps into the method and madness of agency life – new pitches are exciting; they stimulate cross agency thinking and generate the best ideas – and competition lies at its heart.
It took me a while to get here, as a client my pretty dogmatic opinion was that the agencies should always do this anyway; hell, we were paying them for ideas and execution. Once we adopted the new approach, the combined agency/client team generated much better results across all marketing channels.

Mini-pitches keep the account fresh and generate spikes of interest and engagement, before things get too late.

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