Media Buying Briefing: Forrester offers solutions to a very flawed pitch process

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Pitching — and hopefully winning — new business represents the lifeblood of any agency, media or otherwise. We all know that churn in this business is a constant, so filling the new-business pipeline is essential to success and growth. 

But equally true is how truly grueling and unsatisfying the process is. Forrester’s most recent report, Ditch the Pitch, which is being issued today, also catalogs just how costly that process is, estimating that U.S. agencies spend about $12.5 billion on it annually. As context: that’s just a bit less than Publicis Groupe’s total revenue for 2022.

Forrester’s report also suggests a better way for brands and agencies to find the right fit for each other, according to vp and senior agency analyst Jay Pattisall, who co-authored the report with principal analyst John Arnold. 

“The way that [the industry] select[s] agencies, and the way they pay agencies are the two things about the business that have not changed in at least 50 years, and it’s high time that they do,” said Pattisall. “We’ve completely revolutionized the way that we create marketing, deliver marketing, evaluate marketing, use marketing. Let’s completely revolutionize the way that we select our partners for marketing and compensate our partners for marketing.”

The report lays out some of the more obvious problems that have led to the unsavory and unsatisfying nature of most pitch processes: procurement has taken on too big a role in the selection process; marketers fail to think through what they really need; even the tendency of agencies to put on so much pitch showmanship that sometimes can’t be backed up when the business has been won. But it also suggests that pitch consultants might “over-engineer” and create a “burdensome process.”

It’s the solutions that offer a different way of trying to find the right partner. First, the report urges brands and agencies to “reframe pitches into paid projects,” which minimizes the amount of effort and work agencies usually give away in hopes of winning.

“Clients and agencies getting to know one another on live projects is a smart use of time during new business because it more authentically replicates the day-to-day working relationship,” Laurent Ezekiel, CMO and head of growth for WPP, is quoted in the report.

Pattisall acknowledges the difficulty. “I think the the hardest piece of this to achieve is to take what is currently an opportunity for free work and to convert that into into paid projects,” he said. 

Kamran Asghar, co-founder and CEO of Crossmedia, said he likes that idea in concept, but it’s not easily accomplished because of the need to still do a robust vetting process just to get to that point. Asghar believes in the need for agencies and marketers to get to know each other better even when there isn’t an ongoing pitch.

“Marketers don’t do a great job of getting getting to know agencies over time, and they think they have to engage in a procurement process to do that, even if it’s a paid project,” Asghar told Digiday. “But I think the best ones are constantly meeting with agencies — getting to know them, going to their offices, having meals with them, grabbing drinks with them, bouncing ideas off of them. Any agency would be delighted to spend an hour with any marketer.”

That leads to Forrester’s second suggestion — recasting the pitch consultant as more of a pitch partner, who remains involved to maintain lines of communication between brand and agency after the business has been won. The report quotes James Kirtland, founder of KJK Consulting: “Managing the client/agency partnership is about ensuring that the mutual exchange of value continues throughout the duration of the relationship and thereby making it a productive endeavor for all parties.”

“It’s really important for somebody to act as a proper liaison who knows both sides and I think a consultant would have a valuable role there, more so than, say, procurement,” agreed Asghar.

Which leads to Forrester encouraging brands and agencies to focus more deeply on chemistry rather than tools, talent or IP. Here the report quotes Tracy Allery, IBM’s global category lead for marketing procurement in saying “When we focus on chemistry, the results of the pitch are always better because we are hiring people to work with us. There is no question that better relationships lead to better work.”

Although a few holding companies declined to comment on the record for this story, they agreed with Forrester’s general principles for improving the pitch process. That could have something to do with the fact that in broad strokes the report seems to place more of a burden on the marketer/brand side to improve the pitch process. 

Pattisall didn’t disagree with that characterization, as the report frequently refers to “breaking the cycle” that exists between brand and agency. “Focusing on the managing of your partnerships is the way to reduce some of the volatility in the long term inside the client side,” he noted.

Color by numbers

DoubleVerify and Publicis Media researched factors influencing brand safety and suitability, surveying some 19,000 participants on their ad and content responses. The message here: focusing solely on content adjacency — placing an ad next to particular content — is not enough for a campaign strategy. Considerations like context, regional differences, brand sensitivity and audience perception are key factors. — Antoinette Siu

Some takeaways:

  • National and regional variations have an effect on suitability. Using alcohol as an example, medium-risk alcohol content was rated most suitable in France and Indonesia and least suitable in India and Vietnam.
  • Product messaging also impacts the fit. With medium-risk violent content, 53% found the content suitable adjacent to tech device ads — while 37% found it unsuitable for family-friendly CPG ads.
  • Consider the age: Consumers 65+ were on average 17% more likely to find content suitable compared to the youngest demographic (aged 18-35). Meanwhile, the younger participants were more favorable to all the tested stimuli, such as seeing medium-risk adult and sexual content 24% more suitable.
  • Men worldwide found adjacent ads of all content types more suitable, rating content 8% more suitable when compared to women.

Takeoff & landing

  • Havas Media Group formed an activation group and put its head of data Mike Bregman in charge as chief activation officer. The new unit rolls up its data, analytics, investment and martech disciplines in North America into one.
  • Dentsu struck a deal with LG Ad Solutions that gives the media agency network direct access to the TV set maker’s addressable ad inventory, data and audiences, which have been integrated into Dentsu’s M1 audience platform.
  • Personnel appointments: Nico Coetzee named president of Court Avenue’s creative media agency Modifly, reporting to founder/CEO Elijah Schneider. Coetzee was most recently CMO at CureClick … Apollo Partners hired Arthi Veeraragavan to be head of analytics, hired Harry Drake to be media supervisor, and promoted Katharine Painter to media director from associate media director — they are all new positions.  

Direct quote

“The difference between a creator and an influencer “has nothing to do with followers, but it has all to do with creative perspective and expertise within short form video. There are people who, because of hands on trial and error and spending their days in and days out consuming and adapting their creative process, have become experts. Experts at YouTube shorts, experts at TikToks, experts at Reels. And these are the people that we are able to identify and strike up partnerships with for our brands.”

— Monika Ratner, head of growth at Horizon Media’s Blue Hour Studios, which is launching a turnkey product called Mavin that helps link brands with creators to make short-form video ads

Speed reading

  • Digiday’s media reporter Sara Guaglione and senior martech reporter Marty Swant teamed up to cover last week’s flurry of NewFronts news — check it all out here.
  • Digiday also explored various aspects of the exploding commerce media landscape, which is said to encompass more than $1.3 trillion in enterprise value.
  • And in somewhat of a related story, Digiday’s media agency reporter Antoinette Siu looks at what might be Meta’s biggest competitor for ad dollars: retail media.

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