So, you want to hire an agency to help you with your marketing. You’ve sent out a RFI, narrowed the field, been through the RFP, and now you’re down to three. It’s time for the pitch review. The remaining agencies on your list have asked to be first, last, or middle, depending on their strategy, and have asked for intelligence on who’s in the room from your side, and who they’re competing against. Some will invite you to dinner or drinks the night before to get to know you better, They may even be savvy enough to recheck expectations on the ask, and try to understand if anything has changed, and what it will take to win your business.
Some advice: Answer everything they ask. It will give you additional perspective on how the agency thinks and works to see if they put their intelligence to good use. Also, social activities are an excellent way to get to know the agency as well, but extend the courtesy to all agencies.
One of the most important parts of a brand / agency relationship is the team on both sides. Ask the agency to bring people with them who will actually be your day-to-day working team.
Every agency has a pitch team which includes the charming, but facilitative business development person – usually wearing a tailored suit or dress from a trendy designer; A planner or strategist, who’s a bit on the geeky side – and will question everything you’ve said in the RFP and in the room; a producer, media, or ops person – who will look a bit frazzled and road-tested, clearly stressing about some deadline they are not meeting because they need to be at the pitch; and the creative person – who’s cooler than everyone, wearing designer jeans, kickass shoes, a mock turtleneck, and fitted jacket – they don’t care about your RFP, they just want to get back to doing award-winning work. Often they’ll be the person who goes off script and spitballs an idea in the room that’s “so crazy, it might just work”. If you’re lucky, there will be an executive sponsor who will also attend – whose role it is to introduce the agency at the beginning of the meeting, thank you for the opportunity at the end, and occasionally redirect the team if something begins to go South.
This is not your team. Some of these people manage the people who will work on your business. Others you will never see again. The pitch team does, however, give you a view into the agency’s culture. Watch for these cultural cues. More than likely, the strategist or producer will touch your work at some point. Your Account Director, arguably, the most important member of your team, hasn’t been hired yet. This is OK, because agencies typically do not forward invest in resources and don’t have people waiting around for work – you don’t want to pay for this overhead anyway. This creates an opportunity. If you like the pitch team, ask to be included in the interview process for any team members that they hire specifically for your business. Certainly co-employment rules apply, but at least have the option to informally meet the top few candidates the agency is considering to give input. Additionally, working resources (strategy, creative, etc.) are typically part of a shared pool, unless your business is significant enough to justify a dedicated team. At the end of the day, the account director and planner / strategist need to understand your business. The rest can bring best practices from other clients, industries, etc. to bear.
On the other side of the table is your team. Is this the team the agency will be working with? This is equally important. Are there executives who will be the real decision makers on anything from agency selection, to strategy, creative or execution that are not in the room? I like to call these “phantom clients”. These are the folks that appear at midnight, the day before an event or digital campaign launch and change everything based on information only they have, derailing months of carefully orchestrated work. Additionally, are their people on your team that the agency will never work with? Don’t waste their time or your potential agency’s. Make sure your team is as accurate to the working relationship as you would expect the agency to be. Every person on your side, should have a counterpart on the agency’s side. This from day one will set up the relationship for success.
What do you think? What’s important to you and who’s really on your team?