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The Pitch

Updated Saturday, 7th July 2007

In this article originally published as part of the Ad Factor website, we examine the process by which advertising agencies compete for clients' accounts.

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The pitch

Britain spent £15 billion on advertising last year. There are 120,000 advertising slots on television every week and on average you are exposed to 1,200 advertising images every day. Looking behind the statistics, how do advertising agencies develop strategies to sell you the products?

In many cases a client will have an existing relationship with an advertising agency but new companies will need to choose an agency. After short-listing a select few, a client will arrange an initial "chemistry" meeting with each to discover their potential and to get a feel for the team’s style of working.

Successful agencies would then be invited to pitch for the business. From time to time, the incumbent agency may be asked to prove their worth by pitching against other agencies to keep the account.

The pitch is simply a presentation in which an agency outlines their suggested ad campaign along with a number of creative ideas that illustrate how such a strategy could be pursued. In order to prepare for this, the agencies need to be well briefed by the client.

The creative brief

The brief is a key document that channels the creative process by defining the client’s requirements. The brief should ensure that the advertising team understands clearly their client’s budget and objectives but not be too restrictive or there will be little room for creativity.

A good brief would cover some of the following points:

The reason for advertising

There could be a range of reasons such as product re-positioning, a new feature to be highlighted on an existing product or a new product launch. The creatives need to know what is motivating the commissioning of new advertising.

The target audience

An advert that tries to target too wide a group will usually fail. Defining the intended audience by socio-economic grouping is not enough – sex, age, marital status, habits, pet hates are all important ways of pinpointing an audience.

The product promise

This is not an explicit promise but how the product says it will benefit the customer. For example, a washing powder commercial might promise a whiter wash and could be backed up by a happy customer explaining how they are convinced that the product is better than the competition.

The budget

The cost of buying advertising space varies widely between different media and so does the cost of producing the advert, so the budget will heavily influence the agency’s potential strategy.

Pitching to the client

More than two thirds of incumbent agencies lose the business in a pitch. How can an ad agency rise to the challenge?

Making a good impression is everything: the agencies know that it’s probably all over in the first five minutes. Reading the body language of the client is the key to winning pitches. If it’s not working for one person, they have to be able to pass the ball to someone else in the team fast enough to recover and keep the energy flowing.

An ad agency may feel that the client’s objectives are wrong or at least off the mark and if the advertising agency presents a compelling case then the potential client might be impressed by this new assessment of their requirements. Then again, the client might not like this deviation from the brief and instead they could risk losing in the bidding war.

Agreeing on a winner

The advertiser has to decide which of the ad agencies will best suit their needs based on factors such as the quality of work presented, their ideas, their knowledge of the market place within which they operate, along with intangibles such as the chemistry developed between the client’s marketing team and the ad agency’s team.

Once an agency has won the business, either through winning the pitch or simply as the incumbent agency, it is now that they can begin to discuss possible changes to the creative brief.

For example, the ad agency’s research may suggest that the audience being targeted is the wrong one - instead of aiming at the children who drink the milkshake they should be targeting the parents who do the weekly shopping. Maybe the product promise should be changed from "it tastes the best" to "it is good for their health".

As the ad agency and the client get to know one another it will become easier to debate issues such as these.




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