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In the name of “doing the right thing” many clients run their pitch processes on a “level playing field” basis.

It is good that they care about doing right by the pitching agencies – many don’t – but that care is misdirected.

A level playing field approach means that all pitching agencies get to see the questions asked by their competitors, along with the answers to those questions. The thinking behind this is that the pitching agencies are all given the best possible chance of having the right information to allow them to produce relevant responses to the brief.

In my experience, however, the approach actually has the opposite effect.

The client wants relevant responses to the brief.

Whereas the agencies want to win the pitch.

In my view not many clients fully appreciate the implications of this important difference in objectives between them and the pitching agencies.

A clever client will run a pitch process in such a way as to make sure that an agency’s objective of winning is as closely linked to presenting the most relevant response to the brief as possible.

A level playing field doesn’t do this.

The competitive instincts of the agencies mean that no-one will openly ask a question that might give a clue as to their strategic thinking.

Which means that questions that might lead to more relevant responses to the brief go unasked.

And unanswered.

How an agency interrogates a brief gives important clues as to how they think. It also gives important clues as to whether they are thinking harder or better than their competitors.

Most pitches are about buying an agency partner as well as, or rather than, buying an answer to a specific brief.

If you want to see the whites of an agency’s eyes in terms of how they approach a brief under pitch conditions, don’t operate a level playing field.

Operate an Equal Opportunities policy.

Give all the competing agencies an equal opportunity to meet you, to ask questions of you, to make suggestions for how they’d like to manage the process, to share interim thinking and ideas with you.

But don’t share that approach with the other agencies.

An Equal Opportunities approach will give you a much better idea of the right agency for your organisation than a Level Playing Field.

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