The rise of the ch-itch: where competency and chemistry collide

Through the teary eyes and frustration of a lost pitch – one that you almost certainly deserved to win – we’ve all complained about pitch processes that seemed unfair.

Chemistry is as important as competency in the pitch process, argues James Coyle
Chemistry is as important as competency in the pitch process, argues James Coyle

The response time was too short, the brief was muddled, a decision-maker entered the process at the last minute, the client wanted the world with no budget to pay for it.

But this isn’t going to be of those articles complaining that the agency selection model is broken and agencies are the victims of poor process and unfair expectations.

For anyone that attended the PRWeek awards recently, one thing was abundantly clear – there are a lot of amazing agencies in the UK.

We work in an industry filled with extraordinary talent: high achievers everywhere, people passionate about the craft of communications, teams delivering creative and impactful work every day – a seemingly universal determination to get better and evolve.

Selecting the right agency is hard work

So, picking the right agency partner is bloody hard. But in reality it is where the hard work actually starts.

Turning a newly formed relationship into a winning partnership won’t happen by accident once the official process has concluded, and Procurement has left the room.

You are probably about to spend more time with your new agency than you do with some members of your family.

But so much of the traditional pitch process is built around challenging the agencies and testing competencies rather than assessing connection. “Show us how smart you are. Working with less information than we have – which is inevitable, no matter much more research an agency does – present to us for an hour about how we will get better.” It is totally reasonable.

It’s an objective test and something that can be marked and assessed.

But does it really test the ways of working that are going to be required to build a really powerful partnership? Do you get to know how the team works, and the personalities, styles and approaches of your potential new teammates? Not really.

You get an indication of the output from an agency but not its process to get there. You also don’t see how people think on their feet and adapt to the comms curveballs we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

But the penny appears to be dropping.

Rise of the ch-itch

The rise of the ch-itch refers to a noticeable and significant shift of potential clients prioritising the chemistry check with the proposed team. Over the past six months, more time, effort and attention from potential clients has been going into assessing how teams work, interact, challenge, adapt and present for real.

I am all for it.

It feels like the balance is being addressed between the time spent assessing competency and chemistry, and where the chemistry meeting isn’t a starter before the main course but a key part of the decision-making.

In my mind, a process where there is honest judgment, from both sides, of team dynamic before the relationship even starts is a process that is focused on delivering a winning partnership.

James Coyle is chief client officer at Ketchum UK

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