Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How agencies can tap into research to repair a ‘flawed’ pitching process

By Andrea Villani, UK managing director at Appinio

As marketing budgets bounce back after a tough year, the pitching merry-go-round is back with a vengeance. It’s said to not be ‘fit for purpose’ as creative agencies struggle to balance new business activities with sustaining quality work, retaining clients and avoiding team burnout – a challenge heightened with the talent crisis, courtesy of The Great Resignation.

Under the influence of stretched resources across adland, the IPA and ISBA launched a joint initiative to make pitching more effective, intentional, accountable and responsible.  The message is clear: the pitching process needs fixing. And not only for business-related reasons, but human ones too. 

While pitching’s comeback is partly down to brand’s assigning more budget to their comms and marketing functions, it can also be attributed to agencies’ growth mindset, which itself is experiencing a new lease of life. According to JFDI and Opinium’s New Business Barometer report, larger agencies are focusing on finding better-quality prospects and fostering a new business mentality. In a similar vein, small and medium agencies are focusing more on their prospecting strategies, improving pitches, and agency marketing. After all, it’s only right for agencies to grow with their clients and capitalise on the pitching boom. Those that don’t risk falling behind.

Where new business is a priority, a good pitch is essential. Pitching can define an agency. Good pitches secure new business, encourage creativity, develop new capabilities, boost team morale and more. But bad pitches waste time and money.

So, how can agencies ensure their pitches are more effective?

As competition intensifies and procurement processes become more grueling, the ability to tap into validated consumer insights in real time can drive relevancy in the pitch, dramatically improve agencies’ win rate, and set them up for success.

Beneath the surface

Impressing a potential client during a pitch often starts by showcasing an understanding of their industry and business challenges. This moment is a chance to reiterate the agency’s strategic capabilities to deliver an informed idea that’s shaped by the client’s unique needs and desires. But when capacity is limited, both in terms of team resources and creative headspace, agencies commonly resort to tried-and-tested methodologies when capturing and communicating their understanding of the business, such as referencing third-party research, inserting news reports, and conducting manual research via the internet.

Often the desk research cited is years out of date, and shoehorned into a prefabricated point the agency (rightly or inaccurately) really wants to hammer home. When time is short, this outdated research is better than n­­othing; a first port of call, an ‘it-will-do.’ But what if agencies can go the extra mile here, while enhancing their own understanding of the client and their ability to pitch more effectively and thoughtfully?

Going deeper into the target audience can truly drive decision-making in the pitching process. Armed with a greater knowledge of the target group’s wants and behaviours, agencies can not only create a pitch that is more compelling, but one that is more convincing. From the client’s perspective, it gives them confidence that the agency can land and sell an idea that’ll resonate with the right consumer or buyer. From the agency’s perspective, it enables the team to come up with creative concepts and ideas that are credible and driven with assurance.

The data advantage: agile consumer insights at scale

In a competitive pitch, a superficial understanding of nuanced trends in consumer behaviour doesn’t cut it. Agencies have historically had the choice between running traditional market research – which is methodologically accurate, but slow and expensive within the pitch scenario – and selecting newer DIY tools – which are cheap and fast, but compromise on data quality. However, these options are no longer the only ones available as research tools have developed to provide access to high-quality, accurate insights in real time. This maturation of market research has introduced a commercial model that complements today’s pitch scenario as agencies increasingly look to scale their consumer intelligence capability.

One of the ways to use these tools when integrating consumer insights into new business pitches is to conduct a survey with the client’s specific target group. Uncovering consumer opinion to back up the direction of travel for a campaign will strengthen the case agencies are making in their pitches. Whether that’s getting consumer feedback on the client’s existing brand image; measuring consumer sentiment towards a particular product, societal trend, or cultural movement; or testing different variations or avenues of a campaign idea, the results can be used to shape campaign development or, more simply, support an argument.

Data can turn heads and figuratively, stick in them too. This nurtures client-agency chemistry, leaving a lasting impression that puts the agency in good stead. It can challenge clients’ typical ways of thinking, prompting them to look at things differently. When being pitched to, they no longer need to focus their attention purely on the creative to predict campaign effectiveness, but instead, consider the role consumer insights play in evolving their advertising and marketing strategy. Agencies who can lift the lid on these capabilities will be better positioned as a long-term strategic partner.

Providing a lens into a target audience is guesswork without valid insights and data. Intelligence gives agencies a one up on the competition. With the pitching boom not set to settle, there’s no better time than now for agencies to fuel their pitching power with curiosity – and integrating market research in the pitching process can do just that.