"Digital Agency Pitch Process Really Needs an Overhaul"

Co-founder and strategic director at UnDigital Kristen Cornale on outdated pitch processes and how they should be reinvented.

Since March this year, Covid-19 has changed so much about how and where a business operates. In June this year, Roy Morgan reported that over a third of working Australians were working from home. In the same month, a study by RedBack Connect showed that 86% of people who had been working from home wanted to continue doing so. Months later, it’s no surprise that the workplace has experienced a massive shake-up whereby office hours and space have changed drastically.

Pitch process stuck in the dark ages
With so many businesses propelling forward, why are some processes still stuck in the dark ages? If working from home has shown us anything, it’s that relationships can be maintained online but establishing them is far more difficult.

If the digital agency pitching process wasn’t already outdated, Covid has revealed that it’s sorely in need of a makeover. While already a tedious and unreliable process, these pain points are exacerbated when having to complete it online. When pitching for a client, the ability to build rapport is key. Strategy is important but it can’t replace values, respect or chemistry - things that are built and understood in that first meeting. Presenting a pitch over a video call kills chemistry like garlic on a first date. The inevitable tech issues, awkward silences, delayed responses and inability to read the room makes an already difficult task near impossible. 

So why is it still the go-to method for so many enterprises?

It’s time to reinvent the pitch process and scrap the agency/client contract 
I’ve spent ten years in the communications industry and the pitch process hasn’t changed once. I’ve worked for agencies, with agencies and now I co-direct my own agency and it’s time for things to change. Globally, Covid has reinvented entire business models for the better, why are we so scared to change? 

Positive relationships between clients and agencies aren't built overnight, and they’re certainly not built in a one or two hour pitch. The existing pitching process is stressful, time consuming and can be disappointing for both parties when it doesn’t work out.

Clarity and direction 
Ask any agency what they dislike most about preparing a strategy to present in a deck and they’ll tell you that vague briefs are their nightmare. The expectation to create a strategy without any indication of budget, timeline or skills required is like being told to bake a cake without any milk or flour. Clients need to be clear and direct with their expectations and the budget they’ve got to work with. This will equip agencies with the information they need to develop an actionable strategy and meet expectations. It’ll also weed out anyone who can’t provide what’s needed on deadline and within budget. Both agency and client time is important, don’t waste it listening to or creating boring pitches.

Introduce trial periods
When hiring a new employee, starting on probation is a really standard way to get to know them, give them the chance to get to know you, and decide if you’re a good fit for each other. A client/agency partnership should be no different. While both parties can flaunt their values, skill set and personality during a one hour pitch, seeing it in practice is completely different. It’s important to know how people perform under pressure or interact with their team when they’re stressed. Locking into a contract after spending just a few hours with them can be a recipe for disaster if the relationship isn’t quite right. Introducing a trial period is the perfect way to ease concerns from both sides and take the time to test the waters. From the client side, this gives the chance to see if the agency really can execute what they said they could and determine if their culture is as good as they said it was. From the agency side, this allows the team to see how they work with the client, if they enjoy working for them and if their expectations are on the same page. Locking into a partnership that isn’t working doesn’t feel good for anyone, so void out the issue with a trial period. 

References and testimonials 
Employing a digital agency is like engaging any other service. Imagine you were looking to hire a cleaner and all of their previous customers said that they forgot to vacuum and left muddy footprints throughout the house. It’d be a pretty hard no, right? So what’s different about hiring a digital agency or vice versa? To me, I value knowing that I’m working with people who have integrity and I can trust them to work honestly and respectfully. Completing reference checks gives both parties the opportunity to compile a well-informed opinion before committing to work together.

Clients frequently demand innovative solutions but perhaps it’s time to innovate the process to get there. No one likes a boring meeting, especially if it doesn't amount to anything. For a fun and effective client/agency partnership, be clear, give appropriate direction, complete reference checks and shred the traditional contract - you won’t regret it!

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