Why The Best Agencies Don't Always Want to Pitch for Your Business

It may seem counterintuitive for agencies to walk away from new business prospects, but their reasons for doing so are often quite logical.

by Johanna McDowell , IAS

I have been on both sides of the big “pitch” to know how hard it is for a marketing department to identify and appoint a new agency, as well as how decisions are made by agencies as to which pitches they will invest in pursuing.

Despite some marketers believing that any agency should bend over backwards to pitch for their business, let me share a few considerations as to why great agencies will sometimes turn down an opportunity.

When an agency follows a sound, well thought out RFP and find themselves shortlisted they determine for themselves if they want to continue with the process. Given that pitching for new business takes enormous (often unrecognised) time and effort, as well as financial investment to continue through the selection process, they have specific considerations they weigh up which leads to their decision to walk away from the opportunity – rightly or wrongly.

But there are additional factors that make agencies reluctant to pitch. It’s good for marketers can be cognisant of these.

Agencies are often loath to expose their intellectual property on risk. Their strategic thinking is their highest value product and they want to protect their assessments and big ideas from being used without marketers footing a bill for them.

Others walk away when there are too many agencies on a list. There is a belief amongst agencies that the optimum number of agencies in a pitch should be only three or four. Any more than this is a sign to an agency that the marketer lacks industry knowledge.

My experience says this can be foolish on the part of an agency because deciding to stay or go should rather depend on the chemistry between client and agency. If it is good, an agency, no matter how much competition it has in the pitching process, stands a good chance and would do well to stay for the long run.

Some agencies give up far too quickly because they only want to pitch for long-term accounts – contracts of at least three years. Others are simply just very selective; while yet make a more emotional decision, suffering from feeling rejected too often. They are just tired of kissing a lot of frogs and never finding their prince.

Marketers should always keep in mind that an agency that has taken into account the cost of the pitch (and by this I am not referring only to monetary terms, but rather the impact to the agency) and believe that there could be a likelihood of damaging existing clients and staff, will also not enter a pitching process. Unfortunately, what those agencies forget though is that you the marketer might be so impressed that you would be open to negotiating a better fee or Service Level Agreement.

The bigger agencies become the more selective they are when pitching and thoroughly research a prospective account to minimise the risk and the financial burden of pitching for nothing.

Well thought out RFPs from a marketing client will be best used by agencies who have an internal set of criteria that guides them in assessing the value of a prospective new client, as well as a realistic assessment of their agency’s capacity to invest what is necessary to put themselves in the running for a large and exciting piece of new business. 

Photo courtesy of TMAB2003.