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The Pitch: Time for a Comeback

Franziska von Lewinski Managing Partner July 4, 2024

The pitch has fallen out of favor. What happened?
Yet despite everything: the pitch remains!
But when does pitching make sense?
And how can we make the pitch respectable again?

One of the most formative projects of my career on the agency side was developing and launching the first online ticketing for FIFA—for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Back then, it was a true pioneering project. We were thrilled by the idea of selling tickets over the Internet. The agency-client team had an incredible spirit. We wanted to create something new, had a shared vision, and common KPIs. We aimed to demonstrate that online ticketing works and elevate traditional ticket sales to a completely new level.

This project showed me the strength of a client-agency team and the added value that can be created together. Properly assembled client-agency teams increase the value of a company and make it future-proof. There are many examples of this. The key to success lies in long-term, successful client-agency teams, agency setups, and agency models. It’s about efficiency, quality, trust, and enjoyment in collaboration.

The right agency partner or setup has the potential to make a significant difference for the company in collaboration with the client. But how do you find the right partner for your task, situation, and budget? Successful collaboration starts with choosing the right partner, continues through contract design, definition of interfaces in agency setups, processes, and joint KPIs.

The Pitch: What Went Wrong?

The pitch is a common selection process. But in recent years, pitching has fallen into disrepute. Pitches are often too cumbersome for both service providers and companies. The pitch task is too extensive, the budget to be allocated is too small, and often there are too many participants. Sometimes there’s no budget or project to be awarded at all; it’s just about gathering ideas. No criteria are agreed upon to make decisions, decision-making processes are opaque and subjective. Often, it’s just about show, not quality, and certainly not about dialogue in the process. My personal worst pitch nightmare on the agency side was winning a pitch—only to find there was no actual assignment.

Thus, the pitch as a selection process has fallen out of favor, especially on the service provider side. The result: many agencies and service providers now categorically reject pitches.

Despite Everything: The Pitch Remains. Why?

A well-conducted pitch can lead to excellent results, ensuring comparability in price and performance of an agency. A good pitch process gives the company security in decision-making, choosing the right agency or setup. A well-prepared pitch process delivers high-quality content results.

I still remember a pitch for an auto configurator that was later implemented almost as shown in the pitch. It was a great pitch experience that unleashed a lot of energy on both the agency and client sides. Often, the best results emerge from competition. Competition spurs, encourages creativity and energy, and can be really fun.

When Does Pitching Make Sense?

Pitching makes sense for tasks that make a difference for the company, for tasks that are direction-setting and critical to success. Then it often involves larger budgets and awarding for several years. Procurement needs comparable offers and a process that is secure and audit-proof. Decision-making must be objective, and the likelihood of finding the right partner should be high.

Pitching allows companies to directly compare different agencies and their concepts—both content-wise and price-wise. This creates transparency and helps decision-makers make an informed choice about which agency or setup best meets their needs, tasks, and goals. This is especially true for creativity, innovation, and processes. Creativity goes beyond developing a campaign idea. It involves new ideas and concepts in all areas of marketing and communication, such as experience design, digital experience, community, social media, etc.

The pitch process provides a solid level of security, as companies can see how the agency responds to specific challenges and feedback. If the pitch is well-conducted, an agency’s performance becomes clearly visible. This helps build trust, minimizes risk, and enhances quality for successful future collaboration.

A pitch gives agencies the opportunity to present their most creative and innovative ideas and compete with others. Well-posed pitch tasks can be really fun, unleash innovative and creative energy in the agency, and be a real highlight for the pitch team.

The pitch is also a proven and sensible tool in other industries. In the world of architecture, there are competitions for the best design. Start-ups pitch for investors, and private equity investors pitch for targets available on the market.

How to Make the Pitch Respectable Again

Clarity Before the Pitch: What Are We Pitching For?

The task, goals, budget, and scope of work should be clear beforehand. This sounds logical but unfortunately isn’t always the case. In my experience, companies must ensure that there is a clear and calculable scope of work alongside the pitch task. This should be precisely formulated and include all relevant information needed by the agencies to develop targeted, well-founded concepts and calculations. This information also defines the role distribution within an agency setup and between service provider and company.

A company should not use a pitch to clarify its own goals and tasks. Rather, a pitch is the moment when different agencies present their most creative, innovative ideas and show how they can achieve the predefined goals. If the company is unclear about its goals and tasks, a pitch cannot solve these uncertainties. In such cases, alternative methods like workshops or a strategy project are more appropriate.

A precise and comprehensive briefing is essential. Clients should communicate clear goals and budget guidelines. This reduces misunderstandings and enables agencies to develop targeted and realistic concepts (according to the budget) and make decisions about their investment.

Foundation for Comparability: A Well-Defined Scope of Work

The heart of a pitch is the description of the scope of work that the agency/service provider is to take over. Often, this is insufficiently defined, making smart proposal submissions very difficult—with all the disadvantages for both the agencies and the client.

Therefore, a lot of time should be invested in a detailed and clear description of the scope of work. The less room for interpretation in the description, the better. This creates the foundation for the comparability of calculations and offers.

An Appropriate Pitch Fee Builds Trust

A serious pitch also involves a reasonable fee. A fee that is affordable for companies and at the same time alleviates the investment of agencies.

Less Is More. Limit the Number of Participants

The rule also applies to pitching: less is more. Limiting the invited agencies to a manageable number (e.g., three to five) prevents unnecessary effort, increases the quality of the process, and raises the chances of each participating agency being selected.

With Transparency Comes Quality

Transparency about who and what is evaluated and how decisions are made promotes quality. Clear criteria and transparency about the decision-making process from the beginning ensure that the evaluation and awarding of the contract are comprehensible and objective. Decision-makers and evaluators should be present during the pitch presentations and ideally provide feedback.

Dialogue Instead of Monologue

A pitch should not be a monologue by the agency but a dialogue. The direct exchange and active engagement of the client during the pitch ensure that open questions can be answered directly and uncertainties can be cleared up. This interaction helps both parties to better understand each other and to enter into a more transparent and effective collaboration.

A pitch should provide enough time for questions and feedback. Ideally, the presentation is combined with a midpoint workshop session. In this way, it becomes apparent how the potential partners work together, how they understand the task, and how they tackle solutions. In this dialogue, a more precise understanding of the feasibility of the agency’s ideas and concepts is obtained.

In summary, pitching makes sense for larger, strategically important projects with a significant impact on the company. In these cases, a well-conducted pitch can ensure comparability in price and performance, bring transparency to the decision-making process, and find the right partner for long-term, successful collaboration.

When I was still on the agency side, I loved pitching. Most of the time, there were great tasks to solve that challenged, stimulated, and excited the team. Unique energy is released in well-assembled pitch teams. A pitch can be a very special experience. Winning a big pitch can change an agency, and every member of a pitch team can decisively contribute to the success of an agency, even in the early years of their career. Good pitch experiences are unforgettable, and the stories are told for years. Good pitching defines the work in agencies.

Personally, I enjoy competition. I love measuring myself against others and of course prefer to win. In well-executed competitions, we can all surpass ourselves. We should not miss out on this experience.

So, let us all celebrate the comeback of the pitch together.


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