Making the “A Team Question” go away

Throughout my 20 years in agencies, across the hundreds of pitches I’ve worked on, the “A-team” question is always there. 

You know the one… 

“Most agencies just bring in their A-team to the pitch, who then disappear forever.   So which of you here today will I ACTUALLY be working with?”

It was asked to me again just recently before I’d even finished saying hello.  

I always trot out the same one liner.   “Jeez, agencies have got a lot to answer for, haven’t they…” before explaining that at Octopus Group, we only introduce you to the team you will be working with and that all the people in the room will be involved in the project, albeit with different responsibilities, to make it a roaring success.   

But the weight of cynicism, and years of broken promises and burnt fingers, means I don’t think they often believe me.

Maybe as I’m getting older I am getting a bit less patient about this.   And maybe, because I’ve run my own independent agency for so long, where principals in the agency all work on clients, that I am blind to how others in the industry work.    But the direct question infuriates me so much because the issue that sits behind the question – can I trust that these people are telling the truth about how they run their business – is so easy to gauge in a well-run pitch process.  

So to other agencies causing this deep-rooted reputational issue, just stop lying and giving our craft such a bad name.  Do better.   

To all those potential clients out there, I’d like to be a bit more helpful and offer some practical advice:

  1. In your brief, stress that only the people working on the business should be involved in meeting you and talking through their proposal.   This makes it crystal clear where you stand.
  2. Build into your selection process an informal meeting at the agency with all of the team to explore the brief, look people in the eye, taste the coffee and get a feel for the vibe around the place.  Why some pitch processes or buyers don’t allow for this, is a total mystery to me.
  3. Do your research and ask some form of verbal references as part of your selection.   Have a proper conversation with a peer, it’s always worthwhile. 
  4. Take time to quiz the agency about its ownership structure, culture and values as well as their proposals .  This usually tells you all you need to know about the energy, focus and commitment they will give you.  

We all know that most businesses are in a hurry, and sometimes this gets in the way of doing the right things in the right order and we all have to cut corners.   But don’t skimp on this and solve the issue in a smarter way.

I think the A-Team question should not need to be asked these days in creative services, although I fear I’ll be asked it again soon.  But if you do all these simple things in a pitch process, I guarantee you will be a big step closer to getting the A-Team you want and need.