User experience in the pitch process

My previous CEO at RMG Connect (now JWT) Claude Chaffiotte (@ClaChaf) once compared the pitch process to a visit to the doctor, saying that “rarely do you go to the doctor and he tells you the ailments of his last six patients and what he did for them” – but this is what most agencies do today: reels, credentials, case studies all looking backward and trying to show the client or prospect just how good they are going to be for them, by showing how well they tackled somebody else’s problem. But just as treating a sprained shoulder is very different from cosmetic surgery, the launch of a new airline is quite a way away from the increase of juice sales in the supermarket aisle – we do have a number of tools and techniques at our disposal, but it is how we think and are able to apply these to new problems that will really differentiate an agency from its competitors. On the rare occasion that one brand has exactly the same problem as another, where the case study would still have its ultimate relevance we tend to fall on client conflict issues and cannot handle the business.

So if we take the doctor example further, and apply it to the entire process – after all, medicine and advertising are both professional services that can have a dramatic impact on your own, or your brand’s/company’s health – what happens, and how can we adapt the customer experience to give value at each step of the way?

1. I need a doctor / We need a communications agency
In today’s modern world when we start to look around for a doctor, an agency or any other professional service we tend to look online – gone are the days of the yellow pages and potentially the agency association directory as geographical location isn’t always part of the selection criteria. So here is where agencies need to build brand awareness within the target market, which in this case is the marketing (and to a growing extent procurement). Are we any good at this today? Potentially not good enough, as agencies are very good at being present at awards ceremonies and industry associations but these only touch on a small subset of the client group. It’s not enough for our client to have seen our TV spot on a Wednesday evening while sitting on their couch or seen their friends interact with our campaign on Facebook – we need to build awareness in a professional context, and this might mean focusing on particularly industries and building expertise within them (something agencies rarely do, but a few have shown this is a great success – an example is HeathWallace the web agency whose focus is the financial services sector).

2. Start asking around and comparing / Longlist
The second phase after awareness as we move down the sales funnel is consideration and this is about getting the brand onto the shortlist. With a doctor and with an agency this happens in very similar ways, we want to see the work that has been done and the results – clearly a ripe opportunity for credentials, it is just unfortunate that at this point when they are relevant the agency and potential client are not as yet in contact; so the simple solution may be to say that we need to ensure credentials are available in the public domain, particularly downloadable on a website. Potential clients will also try and talk to clients who have experienced the work of the agency in question – again a piece of information that we are shy about divulging, very often work published online shows the names of the art director, copywriter, ECD, etc but misses any opportunity to highlight (and thereby praise) the name of the client involved in the creating the opportunity for the brief to exist.

3. Once the list is narrowed we meet / Shortlist
Finally we get to the shortlist and this is the first time that agency and client actually get to meet – at this point they should already know quite a lot about each other; the potential client because they have been through steps 1 and 2 above, and the agency because they’ve done their homework between first contact and the meeting. What is this meeting all about? This tends to be what is called a chemistry session, since first impressions count for so much, agencies should think about the user experience of who they send, what they say, and how the overall experience takes place. The content takes much more of a backseat at this point as much like two dogs, the two parties turn around each other sniffing – so we need to put our best foot forward, live up to our reputation and reinforce the preconceptions that the client might have had coming into the room. The best thing that teams can do hear is listen, and understand – understand what the clients’ business is and what the challenge they are facing is; why they have called Sterling Cooper over Leo Burnett and what they need from you – this point is critical both in terms of getting to the heart of the brief, but also showing the client that you are on their wavelength and understand.

3.5 Understanding the intervention / Questions and digging
Between the shortlist and pitch is an ideal opportunity to prepare the terrain for a formal pitch presentation – take the opportunity to ask questions and get to know the participants. Make the potential client feel like they are already part of the team (and vice versa) and half the battle of the final day will be done.

4. The intervention itself / Pitch presentation>
The last part of the process is the pitch presentation itself, and this is where all the build up comes together. Unfortunately many teams fall at the last hurdle for lack of preparation – packaging is 50% of the delivery (see my post on the Facebook press conference on their delivery) – and we are extremely bad about thinking of the customer experience here. Put yourself in a big pitch clients shoes, unending hours in the conference room, hundreds of people coming in and out, thousands of PowerPoint slides – what can you do to cut through the clutter and make a difference? The experience starts the moment you walk into the room, and includes everything from plugging in the projector to the wallpaper on your laptop as it boots up. Make sure everything and everyone is polished and this way you’ll be noticed.

Dentists may have bad teeth, and barbers bad hair, but this simply won’t continue working in the communications business – we are delivering an experience for our clients’ brands and we as agencies need to think about the experience we are offering our own customers. What does your agency do to deliver on its own brand promise?

By Lex Bradshaw-Zanger

A digital native and integrated brand marketer with a passion for marketing-communications and product design, Lex has a truly international outlook and experience, having worked both in major marketing agencies and client-side brands across Europe, the US and the Middle East.

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