Why we don't pitch for your project

Glengarry Glen Ross film still

We don’t do pitches anymore.

We used to spend far too much valuable time courting prospective clients when we could have been over-delivering on our existing projects for our fantastic clients.

Instead we prefer to funnel as much time as possible into making amazing things and making our clients thrilled to bits. And it works.

Our clients are happy and recommend us and we’re proud of our work, which in turn speaks for itself when people are shopping around.

It's easy to get into the habit of running a pitching process. After all, it's great to meet new people and get fresh ideas about your project, and you need to make sure you're giving a wide range of people a fair chance to win the work.

However, as more charities are choosing to buck the trend, here's our take on why pitches don't work for either party and how to select an agency using an alternative method.

The trouble with pitches

Pitching to win work is an established tradition but it’s not the only way to shortlist agencies and engage services. Ask yourself what you’re looking for in an agency, what you want delivered, and what your non-negotiables are. There are plenty of other ways of achieving these without running a pitching process.

Pitches are a costly business for both parties

Traditional pitches can make it very hard to gain the insights you require. Pitches are very costly for agencies so they might not be able to send senior project staff to meet with you if the odds of securing the work are low.

Another thing to consider is that there’s no such thing as a free pitch. If you’re not paying for the agency’s time, someone else is - namely their other clients. If you choose to work with an agency that pitches, then you are choosing to pay for all their time spent doing this for other people.


Pitches are shrouded in mystery, don’t expect clarity

No matter how comprehensive a written brief is it will never substitute a proper conversational discovery process with the right people in your team.

Agencies asked to pitch will often put in a lot of work to present an idea and still miss the mark because they haven’t yet had the opportunity to fully discuss your needs. They may simply present your brief back to you saying ‘yes we can do all of this’ rather than interrogate it properly.


Pitches are a performance, the clown might win

The desire to meet lots of agencies to broaden the pool of opportunities leaves you unable to spend very long with each prospect. You may hold all the meetings on one day to make it efficient for your staff, but the result is a conveyor-belt style contest between agencies trying to grab your attention.


You may end up being wowed by a visual or an idea and lose sight of what’s more important. Are the people delivering the pitch even the people you will be working with?

What to do instead of a pitching process

Here are three ideas of how you can engage a credible agency without asking them to jump through the pitch hoops.

Pack your bag and go visit your favourite agency

We know time is valuable, but there are some significant benefits to visiting an agency for a meeting rather than asking them to come to you.

  • You can see the agency’s environment and glean a lot from it. You’re not seeing the suited and booted sales people at a pitch, you’re seeing the whole team on an average day.
  • You will be able to meet more people and talk directly with those who will be working on your project.
  • The agency will likely give you more time at their office and won’t kick you out if you keep asking questions.

Have lots of conversations

Instead of sending out a large blanket briefing document and relying on it alone to communicate your requirements, have lots of conversations. This can be time consuming if you’re talking to lots of agencies but quite quickly you will be able to screen and narrow it down to just a couple.

The right agency will most likely have lots of questions and they won’t immediately say they can do everything you ask. If your requirements are at all complex, an agency needs to do due diligence to scope out the work before providing costs. Investing time in helping scope out the work will set clear expectations and reduce the likelihood of surprises down the line.

Pay for a discovery phase

Quite often scoping out work is time consuming and it’s more than an agency can fairly do on good will alone. A paid discovery phase may involve just a few days from an agency’s senior strategist or technical director to compile a full evaluation of your needs and the options available.

This will yield a very clear breakdown of costs, timescales and responsibilities without the obligation to commit further. You could take that evaluation to another agency with no hard feelings at all.

30 July 2014
Owen Roseblade