Should Ad Agency Pitches and RFPs Be a Thing of the Past?

rfp ad agency new business

Will agency pitches and RFPs be a thing of the past and if so, what will take their place for best practices that better benefit both clients and ad agencies?

This is a guest post written by Jaci Russo, Partner and Chief Strategist for The Russo Group, a small ad agency (full time staff of 19) in Lafayette, Louisiana, that is having explosive new business growth by leading prospective client conversations with social media. In this post Jaci raises some great questions and hopefully will facilitate dialogue from both agencies and clients.

The advertising industry is rapidly changing. One of the questions that plagues all agencies is how to get more new clients. There are lots of theories about inbound vs. outbound marketing.

I received an email the other day from JC Fantechi in Sweden. He is the founder of Icebreaker which helps ad agencies in Europe win new business. He emailed me because he heard Michael Gass’ interview of me on Fueling New Business about the new business wins we have had this year. I thought his question was great, so I wanted to answer it here:

In your opinion, are pitches/should pitches be a thing of the past? Are they really necessary in order to gauge an agency’s output, or wouldn’t a “chemistry test” be better, to meet a potential agency & its work team to see if there is grounds for a good marriage, then work together to solve the strategic and the creative? Maybe that’s the way you already work, but I’m tired of getting my clients into pitches, getting half decent briefs and only one performance in order to get things right”.

JC Fantechi Founder, Icebreaker

Most companies that work in the B2B space are expected to put forth some sort of outbound effort to gain new business. Most often, that outbound effort involves one of the following:

  • RFP – Request For Proposals – Potential client creates a 10-100 page document detailing everything they want to know about their new prospective partner. In the construction industry, a contractor then spends hours researching the blueprints and creating a very detail proposal including costs. The final written documents could at times rival the size of War and Peace and the cost would be enough to purchase a house.
  • Pitch – An incredible investment of time and resources dedicated by anywhere from 2 to 20 companies is made at the behest of the client and much like the Olympics, there is only one gold medal winner. The companies involved completely engross themselves in the client and learn everything they can about the brand and the category. Since this is typically done in a vacuum with little or no input from the client there is no guarantee that the research and analysis is on target.

I completely agree with JC. If a sample project were the third option, it would be the best choice every time. A project would allow both sides to really get to know each other. A project is like actually dating vs the RFP/Pitch which is more like a first date where you only know what they want you to know about them.

There is another option though.

We work with our B2B clients to generate inbound efforts. This is the same way we develop our own business. Using a myriad of tools, from social media through speaking and writing engagements, we are able to establish ourselves as knowledgeable experts and that is why we are experiencing unprecedented growth (Q1 09 net profit up 118% compared to Q1 08).

Inbound marketing is great for a lot of reasons, most of which, once the relationship is in place, there is much less competition for the business.

If you believe pitches and RFPs should be a thing of the past, then what practices would better benefit clients and agencies? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Previous interview with Jaci Russo: Ad agency having explosive new business growth by leading with social media

photo credit: 4nitsirk via photopin cc

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. It is so much fun to listen to two people who have already articulated what I have been thinking about for the last three months. Michael Gass and Jaci Russo, thanks for the incredible blogs and tweets.

    We have taken this exact attitude in our new business efforts. We were recently asked to pitch for some business against two other firms. We had already done some significant relationship building with the President of the client company (met through a social media reconnect) and we told him that we would not devote a weeks worth of hours to build a presentation for them for free. We had already identified two projects where he needed our expertise. I told him he was loosing valuable time with an agency presentation. He agreed and wrote us a check. You two are way ahead of me but I am catching up fast! Thanks

  2. Chuck,

    That is great news to hear. Thanks for the affirmation and for you and your agency having the gumption to stick with your values even if it meant losing this opportunity. I’m sure it was a refreshing shock to the president of this company for an agency to have some “cohonays”.

  3. After 30-plus years, I have rarely seen an RFP that was not boiler plate, copied from another and/or mostly irrelevant to what really needs to take place for the client. They should be called RFCYA. If the folks who are responsible for one of a company’s most important would-be partnerships needs a document of the detail most require, then they really do not know the players. Social media is a huge opportunity for agencies and clients to take a giant (real-time) step foward. Haden Edwards

  4. eswpartners says:

    Haden, Thanks for your insight. I wholeheartedly agree!

  5. Really great news. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. While I do not work for or own an ad agency, I do have experience with RFP’s from my days in the 1990’s in manufacturing software sales.

    If you believed the boilerplate RFP’s we received from the large consulting firms, you would not be surprised that practically all the manufacturing firms in the US all operated in the same way.

    We decided that since our software package was different, we would adopt a different approach. Note: If there is a consultant involved, they will not like this methodology.

    First, Qualify, Qualify Qualify the prospect. To do this effectively we developed a qualification questionnaire. This document served as a guide to get the prospect to talk about what their requirements were and helped us develop a personal relationship. The result of the hour to 2 hour converstaion is to determine whether or not to proceed to the next step.

    Second, if you have determined that the prospect is a qualified candidate for you services, go on a site visit to learn all you can about the prospect and their requirements and make your initial overview presentation of your skills, services, etc.

    Third, follow up with the prospect to see where you stand after the opening round. If you are anywhere on the list other than at the top, do not put forth any more effort. Carefully explain to the prospect that while you appreciate being a part of the evaluation, it is in their best interest to start at the top and fully and completely evaluate the candidates ahead of you. The result should be that they either decide to business with one of them or eliminate all of them from the evaluation. But that if they do not find what they are looking for, to please call you.

    When they call be prepared to convince them to put some skin in the game by coming to your home turf or engage you in a consulting arrangement which could be credited against a future agreement.

    Remember the qualification step? This is when it pays off. Because when they arrive, you are most likely shaking hands with your next client.

    Hope this helps!


  7. I personally love doing new business pitches. I know you guys are all wrapped up in efficiency “what’s fair” and getting the best return for your efforts, but the creative aspect of new business is a blast. The insane hours, stressed out account people, second guessing every move… I love it all.

    RFP’s do suck, but we tend to use that as an opportunity to answer the questions they should have asked us as opposed to the ones “required”. Sort of like politicians, you just start answering the question and abruptly change the subject to one more flattering.

    I work in advertising to make a living, but I love the wild west aspect of new business so I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Besides it’s not like the clients are going to change their ways any time soon. RFP’s gives the point person a lot of check boxes to check off and for someone without any feel for advertising, marketing or life it’s a safe bet. And clients always take the safe bet.

    Right now we are working on a straight up promotion targeting prospective clients. We do a lot of liquor and gaming promotions and are targeting those sorts of marketing types, so we are hoping they will appreciate the hutzpah. Plus it’s a gawd damn compelling incentive with bullet proof architecture and good looking creative. Hey even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.

  8. Rightly put. Irony is, some clients are such, they want “The Procedure” to be carried out regardless of resource utilization.

  9. Oddny Edwards, CUCO Branding/Creative Marketing, writes,

    “Branding/Creative/MarketingAs a creative agency we totally agree with this article. Another option is if the organisation looking for a new agency pays for the pitches. Then agencies aren’t waisting time and will be able to pitch for what the client is after. This will push the client to really think about what they want rather than simply rely on being impressed by general knowledge and homework.”

  10. Craig Lindberg says:

    Lazy. Misguided. Ill-conceived. Antiquated. But enough of the compliments for the RFP process, let’s talk about other options 🙂 Let’s start with the core issues with the pitching process and options.
    First, go looking for the best pitchmen and you’ll find one if not many. What does that have to do with a long term client-agency relationship, MROI? Not much. Pitching and consistently great work are two different performance criteria so be careful what you wish for.  Better alternative? Invite  AND pay three agencies to come up with their solution to your carefully crafted project. Project work is THE best way to find a new agency. It’s real and telling.
    Second, I agree with JC about inbound and especially content marketing. A smart client can find out a ton about their prospective new agency partner (please note I did not say vendor) before they ever initiate contact. As Michael reminded us recently, over 80% of execs do online research before they reach out. So great content and an engaging online presence are crucial.
    Third, “to thine own self be true.” What do I mean by that? Clients who have invested in some serious introspect will have a greater likelihood of knowing where they need help and consequently recognize those agencies better suited to them. Isn’t this what we’re really after rather than the best pitchman?

  11. Gregor Jasch says:

    inbound marketing is the best new bizz investment an agengcy can do. instead of investing in a pitch, where there is only one winner and a lot of blood, sweat & tears I prefer to invest my time, brain & energy in useful content, that help my prospective clients to find me, long before I can identify them. buying behavior of potential clients has changed dramtically over the last 18 months. most of our prospective clients have idetified us long before they had they had a “go” for the budget. the most important thing is to provide really useful information and to build up a relationship at an early stage. then pitching will become something of the past….

  12. Thanks for providing your insights Gregor. I hope you are doing well. It was great seeing you at Mirren 2013!


  1. […] is pulled from the client’s current marketing problems. As Jaci Russo points out on the Fuel Lines blog, working on a sample project together allows you to take each agency on a daylong date, while the […]

  2. […] The below graphic was obtained from fueling new business. […]

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