As more in-house leaders look to take an objective approach to finding their next marketing agency, we share 5 tips for managing a successful agency appointment process - and how to avoid wasted efforts.

Whether it's digital, creative, development, or PR, at one point or another we all need some extra support to deliver on our marketing strategy. But when everyone looks good online - and you don't just want to hire the first agency suggested to you - running a pitch process for your requirements might be the right way to go.

Why run an agency pitch process?

The majority of in-house marketers looking to find a new agency partner will turn to their network. After all, asking around means you’ve got a recommendation from someone you trust, which lessens the risk of committing to a partnership that might fail in the long run.

Whilst this might save you time short term, there are a few things to consider:

  • Are you doing your due diligence?
  • Is this the best option for your way of working?
  • Are you following an unbiased process?

Running a pitch yourself may be slightly more time-consuming right now, but for appointments where you can't afford to cut corners - which is likely most of them - the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Recommendations from a friend may come with a level of personal accountability and expectation that can be stressful at best. At worst, however a poor outcome of the relationship can lead to you being held uniquely responsible for wasted cost or resource.‍

In the same way you'd likely manage any other large commitment, information gathering, risk assessment, and benchmarking against at least a couple of other potential options is crucial for ensuring you're actually getting a good deal.

So, if you’re running a large pitch or looking to make a significant appointment, a properly managed pitch process allows you to keep the process transparent, consider more than one agency, and get buy-in from your key stakeholders without any kind of bias.

The GO! team are experts in agency search, qualification, and pitch management. Learn more about our process here.

The primary stages of any Marketing Agency pitch process

There are generally 5 key stages to any pitch process:

  • Brief development and defining your objectives
  • Planning of timescales and process
  • Agency search and qualification
  • Logistics and running the pitches
  • Appointment, commercials, and feedback

The actual timings, logistics, and requirements of a pitch process will vary massively based on what you specifically need, but the core stages will likely be consistent.

The risks of a poorly-managed pitch process

Plenty of the in-house marketing leaders we work with understand the value of running an objective, independent pitch process - they just don't have the time to do it themselves.

From shifting requirements to numerous video calls, running a pitch can be time-consuming, but a poorly-managed pitch process can also be inefficient, risky, and even damaging to those you engage. In fact, a recent survey found that 64% of agency employees found the process of pitching to be damaging to their mental health.

Pitching now affects our mental health, agencies warn
The recent MediaSense survey found that 64% of agency employees found the process of pitching to be damaging to their mental health.

Managing a pitch: What you need to know

Many in-house marketers learn these lessons the hard way before they come to GO!.

So, in the interest of raising the bar of Brand-Agency relationships, we've compiled a few of the most important factors to bear in mind before you kick off any marketing agency pitch process.

1 - Clarify your brief - especially your 'must-haves' from the agency you select

One of the most common contributors to any agency appointment process is drifting requirements. In the process of researching potential agency partners, it can be easy to be wowed by their experience, or get caught up in the creativity of it all. This is far more likely to happen if your brief isn't clear from the start.

Download our Ultimate Guide to the Digital Brief 

As Nick Boyle, Head of SEO at The Audit Lab, shares, “A detailed brief is one of the most important things that you can’t afford to get wrong. 

Not only will the agency need a comprehensive background as to what you need from them and why, but also KPIs, so they can create their strategies accordingly. 

Remember, it’s the information given by you that agencies can combine with their insights and experience to help you reach your goals - a bad brief will yield bad results!”.

Russell Oakley, MD and Co-Founder of GO! shares some specific guidance for this.

“This can cover marketing discipline expertise, sector experience, audience knowledge, and proven success stories, all the way through to agency location, age, size, turnover, ownership model, and ways of working.

Conversely, you should be clear on the specifics that, even if the above criteria are met, would still definitely rule an agency out of the running.”

For an idea of what this entails, you can download our guide to writing a digital brief and template here.

2 - Instead of lengthy documentation, use the process to actually test-drive the relationship

With a huge amount of ongoing discourse around what's 'reasonable' to ask of an agency invited to pitch, it's worth considering asking for less of the technical detail, and more of the working relationship.

As Matt Simpson, Managing Director of Candyspace shares, 'Selection processes that keep potential partners at arms’ length and request lengthy documentation are unlikely to be as productive as, for example, allowing face-to-face Q&A sessions or agreeing to short workshops.

You need to quickly establish whether a potential partner has invested in understanding your business and your customers and has the experience and expertise to deliver value to both. There’s no better way to determine this than spending time with them".

3 - Balance the 'ta-da' moments with the practical needs

Bekki Bushnell, Associate Director at Whiteoaks International recommends trying to keep both feet on the ground at the final stage of the pitching process.

"It takes a significant amount of work for an agency to pull together a response to a brief that is strategically sound, informed, and compelling to both the in-house marketing team and intended target audiences.

Marketers often want to be wowed by creative genius that brings their brand to life and injects a new level of excitement into what they do. My advice? Take a balanced approach and look beyond the ‘ta-da’ moment in a pitch.

Make sure the strategy presented is matched with an agreed scope of solid deliverables and meaningful KPIs to match to guarantee ROI."

Download - The Marketing Agency Evaluation Checklist
Download: The Marketing Agency Evaluation Checklist

4 - Don't underestimate the importance of chemistry

Keeping a clear brief and objective criteria for scoring the agencies you meet is crucial to maintain the integrity of your pitch process, but it doesn't mean you should write off the human element of your relationship.

As Daniel Swepson, Head of Marketing at Next Chapter emphasises, "Chemistry is everything.

As much as you’re observing & judging the agency, they’re doing the same to you - trying to work out what you will be like as a client & to work with on an almost daily basis.

If there’s chemistry there and they get you & your brand, then it shouldn’t feel like you're being “sold” to. Instead, it should feel like you’re about to acquire a whole load of new expertise, energy & enthusiasm to your team."

Learn How to Get the Best from your Marketing Agency Relationships

5 - Benchmark, Benchmark, Benchmark

Agency pricing and structures are hard to come across publicly (for good reason), and without talking to every agency in the market (all 25K+ of them), it's going to be difficult to get an objective read on how much you should be expecting to get for your budget.

Agencies have clear KPIs on themselves and will know what they need to charge to stay afloat – but depending on the resource you want, the results you’re after, and the nature of the project, the ‘best option’ will differ greatly.

The fix for this is pretty specific – you need to speak to an expert. 

Not necessarily a consultant, but at least someone who knows the industry, is impartial, and can tell you if you’re working with the best option. 

The GO! team do this for free all the time, but if you’re particularly against that, then try to speak to an ex-agency contact, or a senior professional that’s dealt with projects like yours.

Are you looking for an agency partner or just want to know more? Get in touch here and one of our team will be more than happy to help.