With a new year comes new opportunities for media agencies to pitch for and win accounts as clients open media account pitching processes.
We saw it last week with gaming company Electronic Arts and Procter and Gamble (the world’s biggest advertiser), who are both refining their media account processes.
But what exactly does it take for a media agency to impress clients enough for them to win business? What characteristics does the agency need to possess to succeed? We spoke with four agency leaders: Chris Botha, CEO of Park Advertising; Josh Dovey, CEO of Omnicom Media Group Africa; Wayne Bishop, managing director of PHD Johannesburg; and Federico De Nardis, CEO of GroupM Sub-Saharan Africa, for their insights and tips.
What does it take these days for media agencies to win big accounts? The characteristics of an agency, their approach to the pitching process etc?
Wayne Bishop: I think media agencies need three things to win big accounts:
- Clarity of positioning. All media agencies talk about the same things: people, data, scale and digital capability. A winning media agency is able to break out of this ‘sea of sameness’ and create something highly distinctive (just like brands).
- A true understanding of value. Most media agencies will talk about cost and pricing advantages in their pitches but very few talk about value. It is true that a high degree of pitches are indeed won on cost advantage but in my experience, value means a lot more than ‘good deals’. Can you offer free data, knowledge in Africa, econometric modelling, bespoke digital solutions and even access to global talent? The client will revert to the lowest bidder if the pitching agencies don’t differentiate their offering by creating real value.
- Finally, you need a pre-existing relationship going into a pitch – this creates a degree of familiarity. No pitch is won on the day and an agency will need to meet the client at least 18 months before the pitch is finally converted. I think the most successful agencies in the world are the one’s who have had their leadership in place for an extended period. The average tenure of an agency MD/CEO globally is just under four years, the average CMO is 18 months. Media agency success in landing Blue Chip accounts is akin to winning the World Cup, you can’t win all the matches in between but you certainly can set yourself up with a real chance every 4 years.
Federico De Nardis (left): My feeling is that more and more media pitches are quite exclusively driven by procurement. So the bolder the offer, the better the chance to win. Even if unreasonable. Then of course the agency needs to show an integrated process on-off, the simpler the better. And the most experienced and senior people in the room.
Josh Dovey: You have to be a big agency with pan-regional reach.
Most big pitches now involve a consultant and a media audit company working with the clients procurement people. The reviews are highly structured and go through multiple phases. You have to judge the extent to which service and strategy count versus just price. Large regional or global pitches are also often run out of London or New York, so local input is quite prescriptive.
Chris Botha: I think the most important question clients are asking is ‘what makes you different from any other agency’? I think agencies that are clear on their DNA, purpose, role in the industry are the ones who are winning. On top of this of course it takes all the normal stuff – great people, brilliant ideas, hard work, solid tools, great capabilities, and a dedication to succeed second to none.
With accounts changing hands at such a rapid pace it seems clients are more picky when it comes to their agency of choice. Do you agree with this and what are your views on this situation?
De Nardis: Clients are not getting picky, they have simply understood that by pitching every three years they get another discount. Why shouldn’t they? And if they realise that they are not really getting what they have been promised, well that’s a good reason for another pitch!
Dovey (left): I’m not sure accounts are changing hands any more often than they ever did, but it is highly cyclical so it may seem that way. We are aware of the advertisers who are genuine and approach pitches with an open mind with the best intentions.
Unfortunately there are also those who pretend it’s an open pitch, just to get a view on market prices, and have no intention of actually moving their business. A huge waste of time and money for everyone involved and a very cynical way of operating. We know who they are from experience and decline to get involved.
Botha: Yes, I do think clients are being more picky. And so they should be. We are a R40 billion industry. Clients are investing massive amounts of money, so they should be picky about working with the best. I don’t, however, think this is a new trend. I think what is causing this rapid change is the ebb and flow of staff and quality of output the agencies create. Some agencies are not consistent enough in what they deliver, and this is resulting in clients looking for greener pastures.
Bishop (left): On the contrary, I believe marketers are not that picky. Often it comes down to two agencies in the final round and a client will go for the cheapest one unless there is a real distinction between the two.
If you find yourself as one of two shortlisted agencies, tighten your belt. It likely means you haven’t done enough to win it in the previous round. In other instances you may win or lose business based on a global pitch that was out of your hands. We have been on both sides of this and it’s never pleasant. To this day, despite a great track record and relationship, I have never seen a local multi-national fight to keep their agency of record in place if it is changing hands globally. Picky? Definitely not.
My take on all of these pitches is to only do them if you have to. They can take a lot out of you and it’s hard to keep going if you are not converting very often. Having said that, new business is still the lifeblood of any agency. You do need to keep your pipeline full, especially when you are recovering from a big loss.
In the end, ff you’re able to solve a problem in a way a marketer has never seen before, you’ve probably won it.
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8