As an agency pitch consultant I see marketers sometimes making bad agency decisions. Selecting an agency based on their creative work alone is not an airtight guarantee of a great relationship.
In fact, the creative work that the agency presents in a pitch may tell you little about its standard of excellence. One can’t even be sure that the copywriter and art director who came up with the winning ideas actually work at the agency. They may be freelancers hired by the agency specifically to work just on that pitch.
Instead, I coach my clients to look for the telltale signs and clues that can inform them of what kind of partner the agency will be.
Here are 7 things to watch out for in a pitch:
1. Do they jabber nonstop about themselves. Anything more than a few minutes during the pitch on how great they are is a sign of arrogance and self-infatuation. Good agencies relate case histories and, in fact, most of the pitch to the client. The more they talk about themselves the more you can be sure that they’ll be bad listeners.
2. Do they showcase only the top people. When the heat’s on it’s easy for agencies to default to the best presenters, usually the senior people, those who have a “chief” in their job title. By implying that they’ll manage day-to-day details when, in fact, at their level they won’t, agencies cook their own goose before it’s even in the oven.
3. Do they monopolize the ball. It’s even worse when one of these senior people hogs the limelight. They answer every question or step over their colleagues. I especially hate it when they start correcting their team: “What so-and-so meant to say…etc.” Doing so telegraphs an insensitive lack of common courtesy as well as little confidence in their team. This kind of behavior tells clients that the agency is more of a 1-man band than an orchestra.
4. Do they overload the room. This is the old jack-in-the-box approach – agency teams popping up and down every few minutes in the pitch to present their ideas then leave to make room for the next team. Herding in a boatload of people is a sure sign that the agency is disorganized and expensive.
5. Are they boring. PowerPoint is not an impressive visual aid. It’s what everyone uses and, in the end, tends to make the presentation look generic. People, and their personalities, are more memorable than any screen. A roomful of people reading words of a screen is lousy theatre.
6. Do they K.I.S.S. Some agencies tend to present too many ideas, and their strategies are often convoluted and complex. This shows insecurity and sometimes lack of conviction. Even if the approach and presentation is clear to the agency team, it has to be clearly articulated to the client to be memorable.
7. Do they like each other. Smart clients sniff broken teams while they’re still in the visitors parking lot… When the agency team members disagree or even silently disapprove of one other’s performance it’s a very bad sign. Disagreement means the agency doesn’t even have it’s own act together and would make for a bad partner.
Clients who make agency decisions live in a world of career consequences, and that can influence their decisions. My advice to CMOs is to remember that you’re not hiring an agency’s past, you’re hiring its future. And that future, while somewhat informed by previous accomplishments, is more likely to be a reflection of an agency’s vision, its people, and its willingness to embrace what’s coming rather than preserve what’s been.