The PR Show podcast: Consultants and procurement have their say on pitching

New business consultants believe there is often an imbalance in the amount of effort agencies put into pitching for the size of the prize in what is a buyer's market. The process is also "shrouded in too much theatre".

Arvind Hickman, Tina Fegent, Charlie Carpenter and Tony Spong
Arvind Hickman, Tina Fegent, Charlie Carpenter and Tony Spong

AAR managing partner Tony Spong told PRWeek’s podcast, The PR Show, that the imbalance is due to a lot more agencies than briefs, "which creates a certain behaviour in the ant hill".

Check out our previous PR Show podcast on pitching: 'Stop commoditising PR' and 'be prepared before you pitch'

"People will find a way to win and it’s damn competitive out there. People will poke people in the eye and kick people in the shins to win. It’s a luxury clients have at the moment and some of them will exploit that."

On the flip side, Spong said he has noticed PR agencies are getting better at pushing back and saying ’no’, and believes part of the problem in pitches is that clients don’t do them very often, and has urged agencies to take a bit more responsibility in helping to educate clients throughout the process.

"If we don’t help them, they’re not going to get better. Standing there and moaning about it after the event is one thing, but [it’s better to] help them through it and deciding to pull out if a client won’t listen," he said.

Pitching car crashes: Throwing up, sleeping with the client (and the client falling asleep), boardroom piglet

Creativebrief MD Charlie Carpenter believes the pitch process is often "shrouded in theatre and choreography", with big reveal moments based around large-scale presentations.

"It’s not brilliantly set up to emulate what a real-life working relationship would be like and how both parties would get in a room together and work through the challenges and issues as if they are partners," he said.

He believes the process needs fixing and can often operate like "a pressure cooker environment", which places real pressure on agency staff and their mental health.

"The days of running three or four-month pitch processes for big brands are gone and make no sense anymore," he explained. "We all operate in a world where there is a need for everybody to behave and operate in a responsible business practice manner."

Procurement process could be more flexible

The third panellist, procurement consultant Tina Fegent, told The PR Show that it is often difficult for procurement teams to be experts on all the products and services they procure, and they are often restricted by a company-wide procurement process that may not be suitable for marketing services.

"We have a tender and pitch/RFP process. If you are working for an organisation, there is one process that has been agreed at chief procurement officer level," she said.

"To then tailor it for a particular category, such as marketing, is really hard. A number of procurement people I work with and mentor fight tooth and nail to say, ‘look this is a brief for digital PR for £150,000 – we’re not buying wind turbines or electricity’. 

"I do think the procurement tender process should be more flexible to fit the spec."

The panel also discussed whether the pitch process is too long, shortlists are too bloated, and whether procurement has too much power. The panel also offered ideas to help improve the process.

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