From time to time, a brand’s announcement of a review of its advertising agency arrangements will result in a collective reaction from clients and agencies (but mainly agencies) best summarised in the shorthand vernacular of WTF?!!

Having seen a couple of high-profile examples recently, I’ve been thinking about the advice we often give marketers with whom we work: don’t pitch.

This may seem surprising for a company that has been built on helping brands to pitch their business, but there are times when whatever the question is, the answer is not a pitch. Here are three such circumstances.

Your agency’s service is not good enough

If your incumbent agency isn’t servicing the account the way you want them to, a pitch is not going to help address this. Pitches exist in a world of their own which is definitely not a mini version of what real life is like for brand and agency teams. A pitch doesn’t allow your incumbent agency to demonstrate improved service levels, nor will you have a fair comparison of BAU service from the other pitching agencies. They can only make well-intentioned promises about the everyday working relationship without having the chance to stand these promises up.

So what to do? If your agency’s service on the account is not up to expectation, tell them specifically what the issues are and give them an opportunity to address them. Agree a timeframe for them to respond, and how you are both going to measure improvement. Remember you must be open to continuing the relationship if the agency responds as you would want them to. And if they do, this will avoid the cost in time, resource, focus and money of a pitch that’s an inappropriate tool to address the issue of poor service.

The relationship and work is good, but governance demands external suppliers are regularly reviewed

This is a common occurrence and we often see a pitch being used as a mechanic that’s not fit for purpose in such circumstances. In the worst cases, there’s no real opportunity for the non-incumbent pitching agencies, resulting in a lot of wasted effort. In response, we developed the AAR Agency Benchmarking Audit. This delivers an audit of an agency’s people costs, production costs and performance through their ways of working.

A brand can undertake one, two or all three elements of the audit, which focuses on calling out where there’s room for improvement as well as identifying what’s working well to ensure this is preserved and promoted. Measured against industry-wide benchmarks, and undertaken independently, the audit is sufficiently robust to address both internal procurement and more general company compliance requirements for a supplier review. It also avoids the destabilising impact that a pitch can have on brand and agency teams alike.

The audit has had particular traction in regulated industries where there’s a more pronounced level of compliance and audit muscle memory.

The three (or five or seven) year itch

It’s been a while, and the relationship, work and results are generally positive. But there’s a lot of chatter about new agency models; you keep receiving well-written and informative white papers from agencies that you don’t work with; and that new agency founding partner you met at a conference was very persuasive. None of these are good enough reasons to pitch your business. It’s well-documented that the longer-term relationships between brands and their agencies deliver a better body of work and better business results. Surely this should be something to which all marketers and their agency partners should aspire?

But it’s natural and healthy, and good for business, to be curious about the new and different, if for no other reason than to find out if it’s better.

And to find out such things, a good place to start is your incumbent agency. The breadth of an agency’s capabilities and expertise stretches beyond the experience of any individual client. The problem is there’s barely enough time to deal with all that’s on the to do list.

So take time out to see what your incumbent agency can do for you outside your current engagement. Find out if they are working with other clients in new and different ways that could be beneficial to you.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of window shopping, but make sure whoever you meet knows that’s all it is. And don’t forget to let your incumbent agency know: they’ll probably find out from the village chatter so it’s better that they hear it from you directly and are re-assured, at least, by the honesty in your relationship, even if they don’t like it.

And they’ll certainly prefer it to hearing that you’ve called a pitch.