How not to promote your agency

17 Jul 2017

Posted by Robin Bonn

I saw a client’s open request for interested agencies on my LinkedIn feed the other day. Needless to say, everyone and their mum has put themselves or their mates forward.

This is not cool.

Let’s unpick it, line-by-line. 

Hi there Marketing people, I am looking for 3 agencies to Pitch or help for my new project The Great British Larder.

Why a pitch? Why would anyone sign-up to that from the get-go? Let’s enter a lottery without knowing the prize. Hmm, sounds like someone needs some free thinking…

We are about to start our first stage of investment and we need to get 3 quotes and a simple strategy.

Three quotes? Really, that’s the first deliverable? Admirable directness, but if that’s your priority, that hardly bodes well.

Oh, and you need a strategy - of course you do. No worries, we’ll happily write that for you for diddly squat.

Okay, seriously, is this some kind of reverse trolling lead gen. experiment by an evil newbiz consultant? Bit miffed I didn’t think of it, tbh.

Obviously, the agency that wins the pitch will be put forward to the investors to complete the work.

Yay, win the pitch and then there will be money.


Actually, we don’t know, we’re not even the decision makers (but half a brownie point for spelling out the risk).

It's a really nice project with a unique offering and product ahead of the looming Brexit.

Hang on, I wasn't excited up to now, but if it’s ‘nice’? Well, why didn’t you say so? I’m in.

I would like to have a small, medium and larger agency to pitch. Can anyone throw his or her hat in the ring?

Non-gendered. Right on, I like it. You seem like a stand-up fella.

But is this really how you’re segmenting the agencies you might use? By size? That’s honestly the best descriptor you can think of?

Massive red flag - no idea what kind of agency I need, so I’ll look at some completely different ones so that I can compare apples with pears with, er, I don’t know, shoes, maybe.

You wouldn’t choose a car, a cat or a chocolate bar like that.

or recommend a great team.

Okay, a recommendation, that does at least make sense - except that there are so many hospital passes here that I wouldn’t recommend my bitterest competitor.

They need to be very forward thinking and love to stir things up a little.

As opposed to what, exactly?

This is empty flattery, folks - don’t be seduced. It’s the equivalent of buying your loved one some random ‘just because’ flowers after some unsanctioned post-work drinks.

I don't want an out of the box strategy that's just got our logo copy and pasted from the last job.

You smooth-talking devil, you.

End with an insult - a classy finish. And the joke of it is, you’ve not put off anyone. We’re at 368 comments* already. I despair, I really do.

Seriously agencies, if your pathological optimism means you can only see the glorious potential upside here, then you’re complicit in your own lack of success.

Let me guess - you rarely influence the buying process, you struggle for margin, your cost-of-sale is high (or not measured) and for some reason, the clients you do win demand the moon on a stick from you.

There really is no excuse for this kind of outdated agency masochism.

Clients get the agencies they deserve, so just say no, kids.

(* nope, that's not a typo. IKR?)

Robin Bonn is the founder of Co:definery - a New-Business management consultancy. You can reach him on

Robin Bonn
Posted by Robin Bonn

Robin is a member of the BIMA MarComms Council and the Founder of Co:definery, a management consultancy specialising in helping agency CEOs reinvent how they approach growth. Unusually, he’s spent his whole career in growth roles – and never fallen out of love with it. Even more unusually, he’s plied his trade across a whole bunch of disciplines, from service design and creative technology, through editorial content and video production, to CRM and consultancy. Along the way, he’s succeeded – and ballsed it up – at start-ups, global networks and independents gearing up to sell. He’s led winning pitches for the likes of Skype, Eurostar, Fujitsu, Experian, Spotify, P&G, ITV, Microsoft, Facebook and Ford, to name a few. And he’s pretty sure he’s won more than he’s lost. Robin is a former member of the IPA’s New Business Group and Direct Marketing Association’s Agencies’ Council and an alumni of author and former IPG Chief Growth Officer Kevin Allen’s ‘Hidden Agenda’ program. He’s also a mentor – or ‘man-bassador’ – for SheSays, an organisation helping women rise to the top of the creative industries, and a columnist for Marketing Week. Having been hired a bajillion times to tear-up new-business and start again, he launched Co:definery when he realised that agencies really are their own worst enemies. They claim to do everything, despite clients seeing straight past the jazz-hands. And they keep applying generic so-called ‘best practice’, wondering why they always get what they always got.

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