Outside Insight: ISBA’s Debbie Morrison tells us how agencies and brands can create the perfect pitch


Agencies and brands can create magic together – but the course of true love never did run smooth. As part of our Outside Insight series, we asked Debbie Morrison, Director of Consultancy and Best Practice at ISBA, for her views on how agencies and brands can work better together.

Debbie Morrison isba pitching

We’ve found that briefing is often an area where clients need to do more work on content and technique. 

ISBA feels so strongly about enhancing briefing practices that we are running a ‘Good Brief Week’ in early November, with the IPA, which will feature a whole week of events and debates designed to inspire great briefing practices for marketers and agencies.

For pitches in particular ISBA Consultancy has been trying to change the briefing process so it’s much more interactive, so people can get to know each other much better. To launch pitch briefs we’ve been running full day all agency immersion sessions to kick the process off, it creates a more level playing field as everyone gets the same brief, and we’ve had great positive feedback from agencies involved.

We managed one of these immersion sessions with a major brewer, all the agencies together for a beer-tasting ‘learn about the brands’ briefing session at the brewery, a pub quiz about market facts & insights, visioning session with the Marketing Director, meet the brand managers, launch of the pitch brief, introduction to commercials, contract, procurement process and the pitch process and timings, a whole deep dive into the business. The agencies involved said it was one of the best pitch briefings they’d been involved in and were highly motivated by the session.

Briefing agencies in a pitch situation one by one creates an uneven playing field, I always think the last agency gets the best brief as the client has developed their thoughts in the previous sessions. So an all agency briefing creates a better level of engagement, ensures all agencies get exactly the same information and allows a swift deep dive into the organisation.

We also think pitches in general focus too much on the past performance of agencies rather than what’s important which, is future performance. So in pitches we are involved in we are encouraging clients to ask more future facing questions about the agency talent, who are the young rising stars, what is the agency working on currently that’s directional, what are they doing now that’s exceptional, what’s the vision for the agency, what’s the agency 5 year vision and what do they see coming down the road? 

There is always talk about clients running maverick pitches and really there is no excuse for poor process and pitch management.  We have created www.thegoodpitch.com with the IPA which contains a host of great advice and if a client really does feel out of their depth with a pitch there are plenty of consultants who can help.

We’re taking baby steps to try and improve practices. Sadly though however badly a client manages a pitch, there will always be agencies who will jump in and work with them whatever the terms! Agencies have to start to say ‘no’ to disreputable clients or the problem will just perpetuate.

The design industry has been very firm in saying that their agencies will not pitch for business without a pitch fee. I don’t see that same strength in this industry. I think it’s time people stood up for themselves and their businesses. Clients who run poor pitches need to know that at some point the agencies’ doors will be closed to them. Then perhaps they’ll realise how important good pitch process really is.

Debbie Morrison isba pitching
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