Five Sneaky Ways to Get Great Work

“New business pitches cost agencies a LOT of money,” were the words uttered at a Cannes Forum billed as “Five Sneaky Ways to Get Great Work.” You’d assume the speaker was the director of new business at an agency, but no, it was the hilarious and very enlightened Dana Anderson, SVP, Marketing Strategy and Communications, at Kraft Foods.

The session focused entirely on getting to better work faster, and these ideas can all pave the way.

1. ADULT SWIM: Make the pitch process a top-to-top affair, with senior people doing most of the heavy lifting. The senior client who normally shows up to see the pitch – without really approving the brief upon which it’s based – should actually be the one to write the brief and explain it to the senior players at the agency. Then, all these “adults” need to “swim” together until they reach the finish line. Yes, it means cutting out lots of junior folks whose intentions are entirely noble, but their say in the final analysis is usually marginal. Save their energy for the work that needs to be done once the idea is approved.

2. LOST AND FOUND: Acknowledge that sometimes clients are lost (and this is quite an admission, coming from a client herself on the Cannes stage). Clients often hold on to facts that are critically important, but not useful in the creative process. Allow the agency to steer a new course to help the client find a new answer. Anderson shared her experience on the Stouffer stuffing business, where her people insisted that stuffing had to replace potatoes on days other than Thanksgiving. They fixated on potatoes, to no avail, but the agency came in and saved the day with a brilliant idea that had nothing to do with potatoes. The client was lost, and then it was found.

3 & 4. NO-PITCH WINS AND NO-WORK PITCHES: This is a trend we’re seeing at Ketchum, and it’s exciting to have it confirmed from on high. When a client truly admires an agency’s work and people, they should just forego the pitch. Pitches drain agencies of creative energy and fritter away valuable time.

And the flip side: Agencies, stop giving away free ideas and free work! The most successful pitches are often conversations about strategy, and, frankly, they are conversations, not fully baked ideas. Anderson provided a great example from Mio (a Ketchum client) – their ads weren’t working, but a new agency walked in with 10 beliefs about Millennial customers. The ideas brought up questions rather than providing answers, but the cultural truths the questions pointed out guided the way to a solution for the client – and got the agency hired. By eliminating the pitch and/or selecting an agency based on smart questions, the best work can be done collaboratively.

5. THE GARAGE: Kraft believes that ideas on paper are never a sure bet; only ideas put to the test are. So it invests in an innovation garage that prototypes ideas and tests them in the field. Only a slew of beta tests in the marketplace can demonstrate which ideas will really stick.

Kraft’s ingenious ways to get great work also cut churn, nurture talent, and build business. Who can argue with that?