We’ve recently analysed feedback from in-house marketing leaders over more than 250 chemistry calls and pitches to identify the key positive - and negative - factors that are influencing decisions in the marketing agency pitch process.

Why feedback matters

GO! regularly manage a wealth of pitch processes of varying sizes and scales. From one-off projects to full agency roster reviews, however, a key component of any process is feedback. 

But why does feedback in a pitch process matter?

For agencies, this might seem like a foolish question. Still, out in the wider marketing world, poorly delivered feedback (or no feedback at all!) is a common bugbear of the agency pitching and appointment process.

There are plenty of reasons for this; In-house teams may feel nervous about being direct with negative feedback for fear of alienating the agency, or they may be lacking a strong evaluation framework in the first place.

As our Managing Director and Co-Founder, Russell Oakley shared, “As signed supporters of the Pitch Positive Pledge, the feedback we deliver to agencies who pitch through GO! always comes directly from the client. It is never our interpretation of the feedback, it is delivered in their own words.

Whether agencies agree with this feedback is often subjective, but embracing this feedback and then considering how they can leave the process with the best possible opportunity of a future relationship with the client is something we encourage all agencies to do.”

Inadequate feedback doesn’t only do damage in the pitch process, either. For in-house marketers who aren’t in the habit of providing direct, honest feedback, this can lead to issues in brand-agency relationships down the line as well.

Christopher Slevin, Creative Director at Inkling Agency on feedback in ongoing client-agency relationships.

Christopher Slevin, Creative Director at Inkling Agency, shared his perspective on why feedback is just as crucial in ongoing client-agency relationships as in the initial pitch process.

“At Inkling, we cherish the candid relationships we have with clients. Our side of the relationship is to bring communications knowledge and creativity – but no way are we arrogant enough to think we know the brand better than them.

So, we will always push our clients to stand up to their end of the bargain and be blunt and honest if what we are saying doesn't resonate with their values. It's better to find out early if you are going down the wrong track – so we like to keep clients in the loop throughout the process.”

Analysing agency feedback

We’ve recently analysed 128 feedback forms shared by in-house teams for agencies involved in chemistry calls (a precursor to any final pitch as part of the GO! process), and 132 feedback forms provided to agencies after a final pitch.

Of the forms provided, the split between feedback shared in cases of the agency being unsuccessful vs. cases of the agency being successful were equally balanced, and split into 3 categories, ‘Successful, Unsuccessful, or Unsuccessful - making further introductions’.

In analysing the qualitative data, the GO! team highlighted key ‘deciding factors’, common positive feedback, and common negative feedback, to quantify some of the major themes in what makes - or breaks - an agency’s chances of success.

The factors identified across both positive and negative feedback
The factors identified across both positive and negative feedback

Common themes across feedback

The common threads across the pitch and chemistry call feedback (mentioned in more than 5% of feedback forms) were:

Specific negatives - most frequently mentioned in unsuccessful chemistry calls:

- Senior contact on call overwhelming conversation (28.3%)

- Lack of interest in brand (34.0%)

- Practical capabilities (22.6%)

- 'Arrogance' (24.5%)

Specific positives - most frequently mentioned  in successful chemistry calls:

- Asked questions about the brand (32.3%)

- ‘Had clearly done research' (24.6%)

- Enthusiasm for the brand and project (27.7%)

Specific negatives - most frequently mentioned in unsuccessful pitches:

- Lack of chemistry/offputting approach (20.5%)

- Lack of depth/understanding of brief and brand ( 52.8%)

-  Lack of personalisation in presentation (37.7%)

- Commercials (24.5%)

- Practical resource/capability to deliver (30.2%)

Specific positives - most frequently mentioned in successful pitches:

- Culture and personality fit (50.0%)

- Presentation style (66.7%)

- Understanding of the business or brand (75.0%)

- Specific expertise (54.2%)

- Personalised approach and relevance to brand (62.5%)

The major NEGATIVE factors in feedback for marketing agencies from in-house marketers

Though the above themes were broader and noted most commonly, there were also a few more specific comments that came up again and again.

The Most Common Negative Feedback Cited in Unsuccessful Chemistry Calls

A lack of chemistry or an ‘offputting’ approach

This challenge - coming up in more than 20% of all unsuccessful pitches - in-house teams felt that the agency was either disinterested in working for the brand, had not respected the bounds of the brief, or had been overly critical of the brand without providing a clear value out of those criticisms.

There’s often a question around the matter of ‘questions’ in the briefing process - to an extent, in-house teams appreciate questions that demonstrate an interest in the brand and show a level of expertise from the agency - however, if those questions don’t seem to manifest into any additional insight at pitch, then this can leave a sour taste.

Learn: How to Get the Best from your Marketing Agency Relationships

Senior people overwhelming the conversation, or not introducing the day-to-day teams

Another major factor is seemingly found in the balance between who to bring to the pitch or call. Whilst many in-house respondents shared that they appreciated the presence of senior leadership - demonstrating the value of the potential client in the agency's eyes - feedback was often split between a concern that senior team members leading the call didn’t allow space for more junior teams or delivery team members to actually add anything.

On the other side of this was a commonly cited issue of failing to introduce the day-to-day team at all.

In cases of unsuccessful conversations and pitches, ‘people involved in the conversation’ was one of the single most common pieces of feedback mentioned across each submission.

The Most Common Negative Feedback Cited in Unsuccessful Pitches

Practical challenges like capacity, resource, or budget

Though a creative approach or flexible commercials can often be cited as a positive influencing factor, it appears that any pitch in which an agency has strayed too far from the initial brief in terms of budget or proposed strategy has a lower chance of success.

Tiered approaches to commercials or alternative approaches are often included as positive feedback, but there are limits to this.

Specific examples of this would be an agency providing a proposed budget that is well out of range of the initial brief, or ‘overstepping’ on creative solutions where limits have been set by the brand regarding brand guidelines, etc.

Discover: What you Need to Know About Running a Marketing Agency Pitch

The major POSITIVE factors in feedback for marketing agencies from in-house marketers

The Most Common Positive Feedback Cited in Successful Chemistry Calls

A deeper understanding of the brand - particularly the challenges they may face, and offering solutions

One of the most common factors shared in positive feedback is that of the brand feeling that the agency had undertaken an active effort to further understand the brand itself, with particular praise being given in cases where agencies had uncovered additional challenges and started to brainstorm potential solutions.

Looking at the most common positive factors mentioned following successful chemistry calls, 24.6% of respondents highlighted the agency having “clearly done their research”.

As Russell shares, “This information is always front and centre of any GO! brief. It sounds simple but often feedback will allude to the fact that either agencies haven't read this thoroughly or haven't demonstrated that they have this information clearly or articulately enough.

Agencies, at times, hasten to prove their expertise. Nonetheless, especially in the initial stages, showcasing their grasp and insight is pivotal in giving the client a base layer of confidence, providing a springboard to delve into the agency's experience, capabilities, and ways of working further.”

Chemistry and ways of working - ‘I can see myself working with the team’

In much the same way that a lack of chemistry can prove damaging to initial client-agency conversations, positive chemistry, and a strong culture fit can often make all the difference in a final decision. 

50.0% of client teams said one of their reasons for picking an agency was because it was a good fit culturally and personality-wise, with particular flags around ways of working, the agency values, and the chemistry between team members on the call.

The Most Common Positive Feedback Cited in Successful Pitches

A personalised, enthusiastic approach to the challenge

Demonstrating genuine interest, intrigue, and understanding of the client's business, industry, current situation, reason for the agency pitch, and objectives will almost always land well, with 27.7% of positive feedback at chemistry call stage specifically citing that the agency had shown “active enthusiasm” for the brand.

Alongside this, more than 60% of successful pitch responses from the client mentioned their appreciation of a more personalised approach in the presentation.

Posing insightful and considered questions and explaining the rationale behind them not only instils client trust but also showcases the agency's commitment and enthusiasm for the brief.

This is the other side of the ‘questions’ question, so to speak - being actively interested in the brand, and demonstrating critical thinking through curiosity about the brand and the brief is often considered a positive factor - provided that these questions eventually bear fruit with a positive response.

Carl Hewitt, CEO and co-founder of Hewitt Matthews on continuing successful feedback cycles in the client-agency relationship.

Going beyond the pitch - building stronger feedback processes in client-agency relationships

Whether successful or unsuccessful at pitch, it’s important to remember that an unsuccessful pitch doesn’t need to mean the end of the working relationship.

In fact, across the feedback analysed, most brands said they were interested in maintaining a future relationship with agencies that didn’t win the pitch, as long as those agencies had impressed them in two critical areas: building positive chemistry, and demonstrating their interest in the brand.

Even after successful pitches, the importance of feedback isn’t diminished.

On continuing successful feedback cycles in the client-agency relationship, Carl Hewitt, CEO and Co-Founder of Hewitt Matthews, shared, ‘Throughout the relationship but especially in the early days, the ideal feedback is Specific, Honest and Constructive.

In the first few weeks, we are unlikely to have figured out every nuance of each other's communication patterns & personalities yet. So, without those 3 things, we risk assumptions being made and misalignments creeping up on us. If that happens, two parties can easily go off in different directions without knowing it until it's too late! Clear expectations and genuine feedback on deliverables are the key. And don't worry, if it's constructive, no one's feelings will get hurt here!’.

The GO! process allows and encourages clients to be as thorough and constructive as they can be in feedback. To learn more about our pitch management process for in-house and agency leaders alike, get in touch now.