The in-house view: Clients left "disillusioned" by agencies shifting teams post-pitch

In the wake of a survey showing that agencies are still prone to switching their teams between pitching for business and working on it, PRWeek sampled the views of in-house PRs to see just how widespread the practice is.

Pitching: 34 per cent of agencies said they would keep their teams the same if they could
Pitching: 34 per cent of agencies said they would keep their teams the same if they could

The poll found that while 59 per cent of respondents stated they always kept the same team, 34 per cent said they did "if we can", but does this tally with client experience?

Christine Morgan, director of PR, Debenhams

PR is an industry where people move with a fair amount of frequency. You do expect that there is going to be team changeover, but what is most frustrating is when you have a pitch scenario and you’ve selected people on chemistry and it was known to the agency that a person was moving on or you wouldn’t have access to them after the pitch.

I think the whole experience of going to pitch as a client is really exciting and you’re sort of sold a dream by agencies. You get disillusioned and a sour taste in your mouth if that’s not the services you received. 

I can see it from both sides, agencies pull together teams for a pitch and know outright that a person will never be on that account – that’s misleading really because what you’re buying is people. It’s about having integrity and clearly stating at the start that you’re managing director or new business developer and what your input is.

Andrew McConnell, director of communication, Flybe

In my opinion the chemistry between client and agency is a vital ingredient to a successful working relationship and that begins right from the initial pitch meeting.

The pitching process is a huge investment for both client and agency and I firmly believe as many of the actual team as possible should be present for the client to get a good understanding of the partnership potential. 

Having worked within the PR sector for more than nine years I understand that agencies want to present what they believe is their strongest team during a pitch and often the most senior team is rolled out but this isn’t a realistic reflection of how the day-to-day workings are going to pan out. I always ensure agencies send the proposed account team to the pitch so there are no surprises later down the line.

Ed Watson, director of global communications, N Brown Group

The reason why I don’t see this is because the people who pitch are the same as the account team. When we’ve gone through pitch processes we make sure that the pitch teams are the people working on the account.

A large amount of what we do isn’t about the ideas, it's about whether you get on with the team. Agencies can come in with ideas but if there isn’t synergy or chemistry with the team I wouldn’t go for that agency. Once this caught me out and there was no charisma [from the account team] because the people who came in to pitch weren’t the people who worked on the account. 

David Nicholas, global director
 of communications strategy and innovation, Telefonica

One of the key aspects of going through the pitch process is to see the team that is put forward, which is a key element in helping you decide which agency you go for. As we all know one of the key elements of pitching is around chemistry between the agency and client. It’s clearly a personal decision. What we’re buying into is what is presented to us.

I think it’s a perception issue. At a pitch process recently, agencies went out of their way to make that point. They were keen to stress what we see is what we’ll get. I think there has been an issue in the past, and there clearly still is an issue, but there is a sense that it has improved over the last year or so.

Alison Couper, senior director global communications, Expedia

In our RFPs it states that only those who attend the pitch can work on the account and similarly, if they exchange team members soon after the pitch is won, we can pull the whole account. This is because you want to buy what you see when you have a pitch, anyone can do that.

We’ve got this big range of agencies that are hand picked, which takes a lot of time - they’re all hand picked depending on the market across the world. But in saying that we tend to keep our agencies for a long time; we don’t chop and change.

I guess I’ve been in the industry long enough to find out what’s a good idea and what will work.

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