Unleash Your Pitch: Ignore the Brief

By Brent Hodgins, Mirren

As you know, clients are often unclear in terms of what they need from an agency. Be it a lack of sophistication, time-starved marketing executives delegating down to lower-level marketing managers or the political complications of conflicting internal agendas, it can be frustrating. Briefs now often feature objectives that read like a laundry list of marketing tactics, with their most critical business needs – and your new business-winning opportunity – buried somewhere between the lines.

While it can be a challenge dealing with this lack of clarity, the truth is that these situations actually present you with an opportunity.

While it can be a challenge dealing with this lack of clarity, the truth is that these situations actually present you with an opportunity. They provide a way in which to differentiate your agency by bringing clarity to – and delivering against – that which will most impact the client’s business. And it’s not as complicated as it might appear at first.

The First Three Missteps

As agencies prepare their questionnaire responses, RFPs, and pitch presentations, some will attempt to address as many of the client objectives as possible. A quantity play over a quality play.

Others will focus on those objectives in the agency’s comfort zone. On the surface, they see it as a channel-focused pitch. They believe, “The client is looking for a social media agency.” An agency-centric play over a client-centric play.

Worse, some agencies will take all the client’s objectives at face value, without reinterpreting, challenging or providing a level strategic value that improves them. An insecure (or inept) play over a leadership play.

All three are flawed and bring down many a pitch team.

Be Careful of the “Red Herring Objectives”

It’s a challenge for agencies when the client isn’t even clear. To make matters worse, to compensate for this lack of focus, clients will often submit long lists of objectives. One clear sign of danger is when those objectives are vague or “soft,” such as:

  • Drive website traffic
  • Triple our impressions
  • Double click through rate
  • Improve brand awareness
  • Build consumer recognition
  • Increase share of voice
  • Create a dialogue with our target
  • Help our target audience understand why our product is superior
  • Improve Likeability
  • Stimulate purchase intent

These are not meaningful objectives. They are all in fact “a means to an end.” Focus on the end benefit that these softer goals ladder up to.

It’s Right In Front of You

Here’s the best source for identifying meaningful objectives that will command the attention of the client. Answer these two questions:

  1. What are the most significant business and marketing challenges unique to the client's category?
  2. What are the top KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) of the category?

Forget all the soft marketing goals. Look instead to the client’s hard business agenda. For example, Key Performance Indicators in the hotel category include:

  • Inbound Inquires: volume, velocity and quality (think: new sales leads, which they’re likely desperate for)
  • Occupancy Rates: spend and duration (heads in beds, over time)
  • RevPAR: revenue per available room
  • Cross-Sell: spend across all service offerings (think: food and beverage, golf, spa, gift shop, etc.)

You are speaking the language of their category - their unique language - and dialing in on some of the most meaningful challenges and objectives. Dedicate your entire pitch to achieving just one or two of those meaningful business objectives and you’ll immediately differentiate your agency. Yes, still possibly reference the objectives provided in the assignment, but those will play a secondary role to the client's business. More importantly, you will command the respect of every single senior decision-maker.

This is a particularly effective approach when every other agency is focused on talking about an undifferentiated social media offering or how they’ll build awareness and drive online traffic.

Where Can Business Growth Be Sourced?

Following clarity of business objectives comes clarity of target audience. From which target demo and product mix will the client source the greatest business growth? Unless they have provided razor-sharp direction and rationale for a particular target demo, drive your targeting in the direction of the greatest revenue opportunity. For example, who is most likely to spend the most (or grow the most) with what element of your client’s product or service mix?

The Medium is Not the Message

Only after establishing the business and target audience direction, then speak to the medium. For example, a brief from Weightwatchers.com may position their need as a digital assignment to build awareness and drive traffic. But make no mistake, it is actually a “drive online membership enrollment with women” assignment. The client will care most about driving incremental revenue against their female demo. Effectively build your business case against that objective and the medium almost becomes irrelevant in winning the pitch. No matter what the brief dictates, the mistake is to think you’re in a medium-centric digital or social media review – which is to put tactics before strategy.

Which Agency Would You Rather Hire?

Is it the one who’s building awareness or the one who’s driving revenue? Here’s the thing, because you can dramatically increase awareness without actually improving a client’s business in a meaningful way, a soft objective like this is not worthy of your attention. Positioned as awareness with the end objective of driving occupancy rates – now you have a pitch–winning focus.

  • Competitive Reviews/RFPs