A tradition stuck in the Past.
Let’s face it: the traditional agency pitch is a drawn-out, sprawling, cumbersome process that has now spread throughout the creative industry.
From pitching on a client’s entire creative business to bidding on a specific project or campaign, creative agencies in advertising, marketing, experiential, PR and digital all dutifully invest time, creative energy and resources into frustratingly rigid dog-and-pony shows.
And talk about rigid: according to pitch consultancy ID Comms, today’s agency pitch process has been in place since the early 1990s. In other words, most consultants’ pitch templates are older than the internet.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when accelerated changes swept through so many other industries, these archaic processes remained in place, keeping agencies tied to stagnant and unproductive methods of developing new business – while the rest of the world raced ahead.
Basically, we’re stuck with the traditional pitch.
The Creative Cost
Yes, the process is formulaic and time-consuming. Yes, the average agency surveyed in the industry report The OUCH! FactorTM spent 22.2 days’ worth of staff time last year on each pitch they entered (equal to one employee working one full month per pitch – 11 times a year). And sure, the odds of winning the pitch after all that work are around half at best, according to the same research. It couldn’t get any worse, right?
New studies have shown that the traditional pitch process actually feels like it undermines the core strength of an agency: creativity. With all the focus on jumping through hoops to present strictly formatted materials for every client who requests them, it has become very difficult for agencies to show what they actually do well themselves.
“We’re meant to be in the business of creativity, but the focus has shifted,” says MullenLowe Group UK’s Lucy Taylor in a Campaign Live article from March 2022 (Resetting the pitch process and bringing the soul back to adland.) “The average agency now spends around 2,000 hours a year working on pitches, time that’s often tacked on to the end of the working day.” With that kind of time required to address restrictive pitch requirements, it’s almost impossible to demonstrate real creativity.
Pitches can also be very stressful and lead to burnout, posing a serious problem for existing clients, who “need a healthy landscape with dynamic agencies and great creative work. That’s the lifeblood of our industry,” says Andrew Lowdon from the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), the trade body representing advertisers in the UK, in Marketing Week. After all, says Jemima Monies of adam&eveDDB in the Creative Salon, “New business should be a means of nurturing talent, rather than draining it.”
So how can you shift the odds in your favor when it comes to preparing for the dreaded pitch?
The Agency Reel: The Win Before The Pitch
Consider the basic criteria clients use to determine the fit of any agency— essentially, the admission price for you to compete:
- You understand the client’s business, their vision and their immediate needs.
- You have experience in their industry.
- You have a recognizable roster of previous clients.
- You have the right mix and level of capabilities.
- You can personalize your solution to them.
It seems like an overwhelming list of things to demonstrate clearly. But with one creative pitch reel done right, you can prove to your prospects that you possess all of these characteristics before you invest valuable hours into a pitch. They can see right away that you’re a great fit for their needs and that you have creativity to boot. If a client loves your pitch reel, then you’re in the enviable position of only needing to confirm their impressions rather than having to prove that you’re right for the job.
A good reel will help pave the way into a prospect conversation before you’ve even spoken with them while leading with proof points they care about— giving them confidence to trust you with the brief. And reels are the most visually arresting way to show all of your work, from print to outdoor to experiential. Nothing jazzes up a static medium more than a video presentation with music. And nothing showcases your successes better than a video that tells the story behind the work. It’s a tool that can speak for you without you having to be there.
Better yet, a great reel will allow you to learn earlier in the process (even before the competition begins) whether the client feels you’re a good fit, so you don’t waste time pitching on work that you never had a chance to win anyway. Then you can determine whether to continue to invest or weed out the clients that aren’t a good match and instead focus on the next important project.
What’s important to note is this: the best reels reflect the specific client who’s watching it and demonstrate what you can do for their exact needs. That airtight resonance of your work with the client’s needs is what gives a reel the best chance at hitting every one of their initial criteria.
Bespoke Reels: Sizzle On Demand
Of course, every client is different. That means the best reel you can use is one that’s customized for the particular client. And creating custom sizzle reels professionally can get very expensive—up to $10,000 per minute of finished video, or more in many cases.
And that’s the conundrum: on one hand, a reel made just for the client you want to pitch will be far more effective and ultimately win more of the right clients for your agency or firm. On the other, it’s risky, involved and expensive to professionally create a bespoke agency reel each time when you have no idea whether you’ll land the project. And the more work samples and other elements you have to choose from, the more complex creating the perfect reel can become
If you’re going to engage with multiple prospects while trying to beat The OUCH! FactorTM odds, it makes sense to scale up your reel-building capabilities internally. Doing this will allow you to conduct business development proactively, respond more swiftly to requests, reduce the expense of customizing your reels and, most importantly, increase the “at bats” your agency gets by pitching as many clients as possible. Best of all, with the right tools, it’s possible to build reels quickly with the staff and resources you already have in place, using the content you’ve already created.
Read about how to optimize your reel-building system in our next installment.