Pitch secrets of 2015's big media winners

David Indo.
David Indo.

What separated the winners from the losers in the year's big media pitches? The CEO of search consultancy ID Comms gives an inside glimpse

This has been — and continues to be — an unprecedented year for media pitches. With billions of dollars in billings going live in the second quarter, the demands on agency new business teams were extraordinary.

Every network had serious skin in the game, especially in the US, where a large proportion of the biggest advertisers were in play, including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and General Mills.

The challenge for all the big networks was how to balance the need to defend incumbent accounts while hedging against potential losses by accepting invites to participate in new-business opportunities. That’s on top of the obvious pressure of ensuring ongoing business ran smoothly and that client stakeholders did not feel neglected.

This remarkable combination resulted in some rather unremarkable and forgettable pitch performances by a number of high-profile and well-regarded media agencies. Those that did perform well and were successful in the reviews that were being managed by ID Comms [Johnson & Johnson, Suntory, Eurostar and Virgin Atlantic] had clearly decided they were going to focus on that particular pitch and make winning it an internal priority.

In those cases, almost immediately, we were exposed to the best talent, the process was served by more senior leadership focus, and the clients benefited from the most aggressive commercial commitments.

Those that opted for a "shot gun" strategy were exposed almost immediately — with poorly considered written responses, a lack of real engagement and an apparent lack of commitment. The contrasts between those that were focused and driven and those that were simply taking a punt were stark.

Beyond pitch commitment and focus, there were four key factors that divided the winners from those that didn’t make it past the initial stages:

Advertisers are becoming more demanding and precise in how they measure success, and they expect their media agency partners to accept and embrace the responsibility of true partnership. Being able to articulate how media will drive business performance and top line growth was absolutely critical.

Business and commercial metrics are no longer part of a hypothetical discussion around econometric modeling but an entry point for many media reviews. If you can’t quantify and qualify how you will drive business performance then you are unlikely to win.

Data and analytics
More that ever before, our clients this year fully, embraced the idea that good data analysis combined with smart analytical tools better inform media decision-making, thereby improving media value performance.

Our reviews have contained more detailed data and analytics questions/exercises and sought to stress test the competing agencies in this area. If you aren’t up to scratch on data then you won’t win the prize of thought leadership and strategic guardianship in 2016 and beyond.

Commercials are always important
The bigger the scale — billings, profile, geography — of the advertiser driving the review, the greater the influence of the commercial element of the pitch.

Cost saving/value improvement is always an important factor in decision making, but strategic excellence can often top-trump it in a single market review, whereas in a global pitch where network consolidation is an option, the commercials tend to be the "king maker."

For 2015’s huge reviews, a competitive commercial offer was critical.

Chemistry and cultural fit
The ability to build good chemistry with a potential client team right from the first opportunity was the second-most-critical aspect of a successful review after a good commercial offer.

The one overriding consistent feature in all agencies that have been successful in the reviews we managed is that they were able to quickly establish a strong empathy with the client stakeholders and build upon that throughout the process. If they didn’t get it right at the first meeting, the good ones quickly put it right.

Agencies that committed to the pitches were able to deliver a consistent agency pitch team, consistency of message, passion, humanity, empathy and credibility, all elements that help build chemistry.

This was apparent from the way the best agencies always had the right people in the room to match the purpose of the meeting. Considering who the client stakeholders will be, what key messages they will want to hear, and being able to adjust the agency casting accordingly are signs of an agency playing its A-game.

The winners in 2015 combined great chemistry, with commitment, passion, data and analytical skills, all underpinned with a great commercial offer.

The losers ignored these at their peril.

Let’s see what 2016 has in store …

David Indo is the chief executive of ID Comms.

This article first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.

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