What media agencies should know about post-pitch debriefs

What media agencies should know about post-pitch debriefs


Media agencies need concrete feedback on their performance. Advertisers need media agencies to learn from where they went wrong during a pitch.

When planning a campaign, advertisers have to decide what the right media agency partner is. Making such a crucial decision involves multiple steps. One of them is media agency pitching.

Explained in simple terms, a media agency pitch is the process that advertisers have to undertake in order to choose the right agency or update contractual terms and conditions.

Running a media pitch, however, is far from a simple endeavour. The media environment is changing all the time. In addition, an advertiser will need to come up with clear objectives, as well as evaluation methodologies in order to assess pitches.

Having a partner to go through media pitching with is often essential to ensure an optimal outcome and the selection of the right agency. Pitch consultants can run the process on behalf of their client (the advertiser). This process will often entail post-pitch debriefs – essential opportunities for the provision of additional information and the identification of the right media agency partner.

What is a post-pitch debrief?

Media agency pitch consultants will be responsible for pitch management. That’s an all-encompassing process consisting of multiple steps – the preparation of a request for proposal, negotiations with media agencies of interest, selection of the right remuneration model, discussion of the PRF scheme and various others.

Apart from giving you comprehensive management, a media agency pitch consultant is also going to:

  • Ensure the professionalism and meticulous preparation of the pitch process
  • Reduce the amount of time and effort required to handle media pitching in the best possible way
  • Guarantee optimal results for a client
  • Maximise savings by ensuring better media prices and more competitive fees
  • Provide the client with a media agency contract that represents their interests in the best way

Each consultancy has their own methodology as far as giving clients all of these results and benefits. Some are much more efficient than others, tailoring the pitching process to meet every single need of an advertiser.

Our methodology, for example, came into existence in 2020. In 2021, we tested it out by applying it to actual pitching processes. The test involved six media agency pitches and each time we managed to ensure excellent outcomes for both clients and media agencies.

To ensure such results, we always involved ourselves in the provision of sufficient feedback to media agencies. Through such feedback, agencies can enhance their pitch to address issues standing in the way of a successful partnership.

We also involve ourselves in post-pitch debriefs. Through those, media agencies are provided with a lot of information about the quality of their pitch. Such debriefing is made available to agencies, whether their pitch was successful or not. Based on such feedback, agencies can enhance their pitches in the future to potentially score new clients.

Media pitching – a challenging, expensive process

We will take a deeper look at the cost of media agency pitching in the next section. The associated expense, however, isn’t the only obstacle that media agencies have to overcome.

Acquiring new business is far from easy, especially when many others are trying to accomplish the same thing. Some of the biggest pitching difficulties include:

Staff burnout

Pitch requests often come with unrealistic timelines. Clients also demand a lot of information (in part, a pitch has to be exquisite in order to stand out from the competition). As a result, media agency staff dealing with pitch preparation are likely to experience massive burnout resulting from late nights and long hours of work. If a pitch is lost, the effect of this burnout is only amplified.

Unrealistic client expectations and speculative practices

Agencies also need to put in some work into discovering a bit more about the advertiser that they’re creating the pitch for. Is the brand looking for the lowest price possible? In that case, speculative practices are likely to become a part of the pitching process. Add unrealistic client expectations to the mix and you get a formula for definite disappointment.

Creativity depletion

Most media agencies participate in multiple pitches each year. Having to “entice” multiple clients can sooner or later deplete creativity and have a negative impact on the overall pitch quality. This is especially true in instances when the agency isn’t provided with additional feedback on a losing pitch.

A matter of volume

For many agencies, pitching eventually becomes a matter of volume. In the absence of a strategy and knowledge of pitching shortcomings, a vicious cycle is created. It’s easy to say that quality is more important than quantity. For many agencies, however growth and new client acquisition is conflated with extensive pitching. And as already mentioned, numerous pitches lead to burnouts and creativity losses, reducing the chances of success even further.

How they benefit agencies

According to the European Association of Communication Agencies, a debrief is of particular importance for the agencies that have lost the pitching process.

For most agencies, participation in a pitch is time-consuming and labour-intensive.  The Advertiser vs. Client-Side Marketers Study suggests that 81% of agency professionals are involved in a pitch every week and more than half of all agencies pitch 10 times per year or more. According to respondents in the study, participation in media agency pitching increases stress levels by 28%.

The cost of pitching is the focus of another intriguing study. Regardless of the fact that it comes from Australia, The Ouch! Factor Report 2021 reaches some interesting conclusions that are more or less universally-applicable. For example, the average agency pitches 11 times per year and wins only five of those pitches. On average, media agency professionals spend 177 hours on a pitch but because of the number of wins, the hours required to score a new client go up to 372.

It’s rare for media agencies to get compensated for their pitch participation. Hence, they could become reluctant about participating in every single pitch.

Optimising their pitching performance provides media agencies with opportunities to generate profit, cut losses and ensure their long-term stability. And the financial losses aren’t the only ones worth discussing. The loss of a pitch can be incredibly demotivating for staff members. If multiple pitches are lost one after the other, employee engagement and satisfaction are likely to drop. The loss of morale will obviously have detrimental effects in the long-run.

Just like all other businesses, media agencies need concrete feedback on their performance. Having such information allows the strengthening of future pitches, providing the agency with opportunities to generate new business through increased competitiveness.

This is the kind of information that post-pitching debriefs provide. When weaknesses are identified and pointed out specifically, they can be eliminated in the future.

Why we’re keen on providing debriefs to media agencies

Many consultants and advertisers will refrain from providing media agencies with useful feedback during a debrief. So why do we engage in the process every single time?

We are ex-media agency professionals. Because of this background, we understand the pain points that agency professionals have. We also have a very good idea about the amount of work involved in producing a quality pitch and the consequences that a loss can have. These are the reasons why we want the media agency pitch process to be fair and balanced.

As pitch consultants, we require a lot of information during the pitch process. Putting all of this information together necessitates many man-hours. Hence, it is only fair for us to give participating agencies as much specific feedback as possible.

It’s time to end the silence after the end of media agency pitching

The provision of concrete, actionable pitch feedback benefits everyone involved in the process. Agencies improve their chances of winning a new client over. Advertisers get propositions that are perfectly aligned with their needs. It’s a win-win game that requires some effort and enhanced communication.

As pitch consultants, we understand the importance of giving everyone a fair chance to win. Such a chance is ensured through the pinpointing of weaknesses that agencies could work on and eliminate in their future pitches.

Debriefing also gives agencies a chance to strengthen their performance during a current pitch.

Usually, at least two meetings between advertisers and agencies occur before a pitch winner is selected. Agencies that get some beneficial feedback after the first meeting can incorporate the client’s recommendations in a modified pitch that will have better odds of landing a contract.

Because of the current pitching landscape, agencies are selective and reluctant about participation in pitches. It’s essential for them to know that they stand a fighting chance. Guaranteeing the fairness and objectivity of the pitch requires the provision of feedback on behalf of the advertiser. Such feedback is of especially important whenever a proposition misses the mark.

Finally, let’s stress one more time on the reputation of the pitch consultant. Consultants have their specific professional routines when managing the pitch process. The best ones treat media agencies with respect because they understand the volume of work involved in preparing a proposal.

Ongoing feedback provision isn’t just the ethical thing to do. Putting some effort in communication can result in better work conditions for everyone involved in media agency pitching. In the end of the day, clients and their consultants will also get to reap the fruits of their labour.

Philippe Dominois is co-founder and CEO of the global media consultancy Abintus Consulting, and lead coach at the Abintus Academy. He writes a monthly column for The Media Leader.

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