Pitching to the many
No matter how much new business activity you manage to undertake, there will always be wins cropping up in the trade press that will have you scratching your head, wondering “why didn’t we know about that?”. We know about a lot of the reviews that happen and even we sometimes glare at The Drum, wondering how such a stonking piece of business slipped under our military-grade radar.
This can lead to a scary outcome. You start making too many calls and sending out too many emails. It can also lead to you dropping your standards; your criteria of what constitutes a great opportunity.
Agencies are very similar to one another. In almost all areas of the marketing industry, they’re clumped together geographically and in terms of their offerings. PR Agencies are all too often sat in an office less than a mile from competitors who have a few of their ex-staff and a few of their ex-clients. Before agency heads start emailing me protestations that their agency is unique and that their staff stay as infinitely long as their clients do, let me urge you to spend the time looking at clips of people hurting themselves on YouTube. It will be just as productive. Agencies aren’t unique (or nobody would use them) – they’re similar. Choosing one is about as much fun as plucking nose-hairs while watching Vanilla Sky. Your prospects would much prefer to stay as they are, but alas, their agency is comfortable and it’s time to usher in a new era of creativity and strategy. They Google “I need a marketing agency in Bristol” and a list of 2,480,000 results appears on their screen. Suddenly you’re part of the biggest pitch list in history.
So, now your prospect is scanning the first page and sees some descriptions. They tell him (our pretend Marketing Director is a he and, as it turns out, a Marketing Director) that some agencies are “new”, some are “integrated” and some are “full service”. One listing informs you that you’re going to need to upgrade your flash player.
So, in this case they start whittling down and looking at a few web sites. Over the next week they call a bunch of them. 15 agencies look pretty cool and have nice clients. In that week, 4 other agencies call and pitch their wares on the phone. Getting their timing right, 1 of those is added to the 15. Our Marketing Director (who by now has watched the clip of people hurting themselves and empathises with them each time he looks at the list of oddly-names agencies decides that they all look pretty good and that he needs a better way of telling the difference.
Whatever happens next barely matters. But for the sake of this blog, we’re going to assume that our hero emails the 16 agencies asking for credentials and rough costs. He sends them a very rough marketing plan that no agency could properly quote for (but they do). 2 of the agencies bother to ask the critical question: “How many agencies are you talking to about this?”. They pull out. If the other agencies are equal (and in the main, they will be (yes, I know, you’re unique, marvellous, fast, cheap or some other descriptive word that none of the other 13 agencies could possibly claim…)) then they have a 1 in 14 chance of winning out. With plenty more hoops to jump through, they’ll have spent thousands on this pitch, grimly unaware that they have a 7.1% chance of winning. If they’re twice as good as anyone else then let’s be generous and give them a quadrupled chance of winning. That’s about 28%. A bit over 1 in 4. And the chances of them actually being (or at least appearing to be) twice as good as every other agency? Be honest. Slim.
Knowing the size of a pitch list is hugely important. Ask the question and you can save a lot of time and money. In the case above, most of our clients would prefer to be one of the two that stepped aside (and if they listened to us, re-approached the prospect with something far wide of the parameters of the pitch). The real problem that arises is that our jaded hero can’t really choose effectively from 14 agencies and ends up with one chosen not because they showed that they understand how to drive business, but one that put on a show. Sometimes that show will illustrate exactly why the agency is great, but most often they’ll become the agency that gets comfortable a year later. Our “zag while you zig” duo of smart, targeted agencies? Well what do you think?
There are pitches worth being part of, but choosing when to step aside is a powerful, important decision.