Independent agencies – sorry, but your strategic ‘process’ isn’t unique

Over the last 20 years I’ve worked as a Planner/Strategist at five agencies and freelanced at over a dozen more and they’ve nearly all claimed to have their very own, unique to them, insight ‘process’. This is usually brought to life in a pitch with a powerpoint slide using circles and/or arrows from left to right to show how they get from something like Insight to Inspiration then Ideation.

The thing is, every agency is basically doing the same thing, they just express it in ever so slightly different ways. Unless your agency has access to a ton of free-to-client insight sources that no-one else has or you’ve, say, built an AI that generates propositions then you’re not actually special or different.

Yes, yes, it’s all in the positioning, it almost doesn’t matter whether you are different so long as you sound different, it’s the way you tell ’em, blah blah blah. But, most clients aren’t fooled anymore. In 2018 we were last agency of the day to pitch and got to the process slide (which I had challenged in the draft), only for the clients to start sniggering and say something like “you know that everyone else’s slide looked the same don’t you?”.

Since then I’ve been begging the agencies I work with to stop talking (and powerpointing) about Process and instead focus on Added Value. What does this agency practically bring to the table when it comes to insight and ideas generation that not many agencies do or can? Co-creation? An ‘audience voice’ research panel? Data scientists? Twenty years understanding of the category being pitched for?

In a pitch last year, scraping the bottom of the barrel for something that the other agencies pitching couldn’t offer, we detailed all the resources we’d be able to access via the insight team of our media partners – TGi, Mintel, WARC, Canvas8 and so on. In the questions at the end, the client asked if as part of the contract we would be sharing all those insight logins with all their European offices. I had to say unfortunately no, that would get us all into a lot of trouble, but if they had an extra couple of hundred grand knocking about then they could have their very own subscriptions…

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