When Should I Pay an Agency to Pitch?


You’re about to commence with a creative project that will change your business for the better. You’ve had it signed off internally, and now you just need to find the right agency to partner with. You’ve decided to put it out to pitch, in the hope of finding the perfect agency partnership.

Now comes a crucial decision. Do you pay agencies to come and share their ideas with you, before awarding the contract itself? And if you do, how are you going to run it?

This has been a debate within agencies across all industries for decades. In the creative industry and there isn’t a current standard but paid pitching does happen. If the decision is to pay, then it’s not necessarily expected you’ll cover the whole cost behind the pitch. A ‘token gesture’ of £5,000 is a figure that gets brought up time and again. Crunching the average numbers from industry bodies like the DBA, this is unlikely to actually cover even the most basic of creative pitches, given the resource involved in assembling one.

With that in mind we are in favour of this incentive if it’s available. It is a gesture that doesn’t go unnoticed and also means that you’re not limited to a very small number of large network agencies, rather you’ll open the process up to more expert teams coming to vie for the work. But we know that this isn’t always feasible. If you want three agencies at that final presentation stage, that’s £15,000 before you’ve awarded the contract fee itself. It’s easy to see how this could be a tough figure to get signed off, depending on the level of investment in the project already allocated.

It’s also worth noting that this token financial gesture doesn’t guarantee you ownership over any creative ideas presented. And it shouldn’t. Agencies who have put in the time and effort to come up with creative and strategic solutions are doing so in the hopes that these ideas are enough to secure a contract that they desire, but if they aren’t successful, then they should (and do) retain the rights to this material.

If you can’t pay for a pitch, consider whether a strategic and experience-based pitch is a feasible way to carry out the selection process. You’ll still get a good chemistry meeting and relevant examples of previous work, without the creative resource required to come up with new ideas before the presentation. There is also less demand on your time if you choose this option.

Regardless of whether you pay for a pitch process or not, there are some key tips to ensuring that you attract the best possible partner for your project. As with any good relationship, both sides need to be getting something valuable out of it and this applies to the pitch regardless of whether the agency is ultimately successful in winning it.


Here are our top tips to ensuring a successful pitch and the best possible applicants:

Show that you’ve put the time in. Understand and respect that an agency is putting time and effort in on their side, so prepare thoroughly and provide as much context as you can. Access to research, transparency about the project timings and budgets, existing work and clear measurements for project success are all helpful to any prospective agency.

Limit the number of agencies through to the final pitch to a maximum of three and be clear with all final applicants about how many other companies they’re up against. Use chemistry meetings and calls to whittle down your initial registrations of interest.

Give detailed feedback to all agencies. This is, apart from common courtesy, often incredibly useful for an agency if they weren’t successful and ensures they leave the process feeling like they’ve still gained something valuable. Ideally, do this over the phone, and make sure you’re constructive.

Plan and communicate realistic timings. Ensure you aren’t leaving an agency wondering for too long about their chances. Be clear from the beginning about the selection timeline and stick to it. This also sets an important tone for your relationship with the successful agency.

Manage your internal stakeholders thoroughly.

  • Everyone in that final presentation should be clear about what they are expecting to see, exactly what has been asked of the agency and what you’re looking for.
  • Don’t plan to see a ‘silver bullet’ solution in this meeting, it’s not a fair expectation for either side. Remember that the agency hasn’t yet had full access to the business, been immersed in the project and had the time to understand your specific market fully. Any creative ideas that are presented will need to be refined and developed. In some cases, the original creative is almost entirely changed from that initial meeting.
  • You’re not contracting that presentation, you’re contracting the agency who put it together because you think they’ll produce the best possible results for your business over the course of the project, based on what they show you.


So when should you pay an agency to pitch?

If you can, you should.

But in all cases, you should show the same respect for each agency’s time and effort as you hope they will be putting into your upcoming project.