Pitching for better outcomes

The cost of pitching

It has become commonplace for clients to solicit solutions-based (IP) pitches when seeking new agency partners. This has a severe impact on agency financials, staff well-being, and in environmental costs associated with unnecessary and unproductive work.

We think there is a better way.

The following is the Comms Council's guidance for good pitching practice. We have observed a number of clients embracing the approach outlined below, with positive feedback with outcomes on par, or better, than the traditional full-blown pitch, without the negative impact of IP-based pitching. We encourage any clients seeking to find a new agency partner to consider the questions below before committing to a process.

Any clients seeking to discuss the recommendations below are encouraged to contact our CEO, Simon Lendrum, for a confidential conversation.

Guide to effective pitches

  • Step 1.

    Ensure a pitch is necessary

    Clearly articulate why it is necessary to go to market. Ask if any of your existing agencies can solve the problem you are facing, or in the case of strained relationships, if an open and honest relationship could resolve issues with your current teams.
  • Step 2.

    Clearly define the problem

    Clarity of the challenge enables you to enter into productive conversations with potential agency partners. Resist the temptation to use a pitch process to identify your problem. It is also important at this stage to articulate the scale of work you are seeking. Is it a project? A long-term, multi-year engagement? What sort of budgets will you be allocating to the solutions. This enables the agency to transparently gauge the 'size of the prize' in winning your business.
  • Step 3.

    Research the agency landscape

    Identify a shortlist of agencies that, based on work for other clients, recommendations from trusted peers, or positive recommendations from other partners, have potential to solve your problem. Review our list of member agencies here.
  • Step 4.

    Discuss your challenge

    Visit the agencies, meet with their teams, and be prepared to have an open conversation about the nature of your business challenge. Ask them how they would go about working towards a solution. Ask them about previous relevant experience with other clients and how they reached a solution. Get a sense of how they work, how they think, and develop a sense of how compatible they would be as a partner for you and your team.

The most efficient and productive approach is to appoint an agency after following the 4 steps outlined above.


Ideally, at this stage, you will have gained an understanding of the agencies' competencies, their relevant experience, and which of your shortlisted agencies gives you most confidence.

However, there may be circumstances that require you to seek creative or strategic recommendations to your problem. In other words, you want the agencies to propose the actual solution to your problem in order to choose a provider. This is a request for Intellectual Property. In this case, be aware of the following:

  • There is no 'short-cut' to presenting a solution to a client brief. It requires significant resources to be used by the agency – both internal and external costs – that are unrecoverable. When resource is applied to a pitch, it cannot be utilised on other, paid, client work.
  • IP-based pitches have a real human impact - it often has to be done around existing client work, which means long hours on already stretched resource. In today's environment, with a tight labour market coupled with frequently depleted teams due to Covid, the impact of this is material. Evaluate this against your company's own values.
  • Work resulting from even the best-run IP-based pitch misses out on one crucial ingredient: your own team's input. Work delivered in real-world conditions are the result of constant exchanging of ideas and collaboration between a client and agency. Pitches cannot replicate this effectively.

If, taking all this on board, you feel that you need to ask for IP-based pitching (perhaps the solution is time-critical, or your procurement team insist on it, or your business is risk averse and considers this stage appropriate risk mitigation) then we strongly urge you to remunerate agencies for participation. While this remuneration might not quite be full market rate (though if it is, you have the option to ask for transfer of IP from participating agencies), it should be more than token.

Our belief is that only by paying for IP-based responses can you expect great outcomes. You have already confirmed in stage 1, above, that the pitch is necessary (and therefore of material benefit to your business). Sustainable pitching, where agencies can put their best resource on the task, without opportunity cost, and without potential for cost to their staff, is only possible when the work that is delivered is valued by the client. Ultimately, the best demonstration that you value an agency's output is that you are willing to pay for it.

What does good briefing look like?

Get the new IPA guide, co-authored by BetterBriefs and Mark Ritson, is a practical guide to writing better briefs for agencies. 

It's free to download from the IPA.