emotive MD, Lizzie Styles, speaks at PM Society Procurement Event


Last week the PM Society held the second in their meeting series on Agency-Procurement relationships. This event looked at the topic of pitching – what is current practice and how can we make improvements? emotive Managing Director Lizzie joined the first panel discussion to put forward the agency perspective alongside procurement experts Mike Orriss, Commercial Director at GSK and Niels van Dam, Sourcing Manager at Astellas.

Pitch Practice Survey Results 

The first session presented the results of the PM Society survey on pitch practice. The starkest difference between agency and pharma responses in the survey was on the topic of how much agencies spend on pitches.  Agencies said they spent an average of over £40,000 on a competitive pitch (for a £200K piece of work). 39% of pharma respondents thought the figure was under £5,000!

The survey looked at the time given to agencies to complete the pitch process.  Over 70% of agency respondents said they are given 2 to 3 weeks to prepare for a pitch but 78% of agency respondents said they would like either 4 weeks or 4-6 weeks to do their best work.  

On the topic of how the winning agency is selected, the single main factor chosen by 34% of pharma respondents was ‘demonstration of strategic thinking’, with the second choice being the ‘specific ideas presented at the pitch’ (13%). Joint third were ‘proven experience in the therapeutic or brand area’ (11%) and ‘expertise in the implementation of key tactics’ (11%). 

This short summary of the pitch results finished with the question of feedback – what are agencies told when given the news that they have lost a pitch? The most frequently chosen answer (by 23% of agencies) was ‘our costs were higher’.  Yet pharma respondents did not rank cost highly when considering factors affecting their choice of agency. Food for thought.  

The New GSK Pitch Process 

Mike Orriss, GSK Commercial Director, talked about his priorities in global agency management. A key objective is to break old habits, including the 2-year cycle of changing agencies and the tendency to build client-supplier relationships rather than partners. GSK wants to drive performance by setting agency partners up for success and inspiring the agencies to do their best work.  

Mike recently ran a complex pitch covering three global therapy areas and several priority markets. He used a three-step process to select the right partners: firstly the RFI, then ‘GEMBA’ (visiting the agency offices) and finally the Pitch. 

Mike explained that internal feedback on the process was very positive about the ‘new’ GEMBA stage. He believes that the time invested to go and see the agencies and meet the team was the most useful in selecting the right partners.  

New models for pitching 

Philipp Schuster, Global Category Lead described the new Bayer procurement approach. Bayer is striving to become ‘the client of choice’ for agencies, to get access to the right talent and innovation. One new strategy is the ‘pitch in a day’. Each shortlisted agency comes in to the company offices for a day – gets briefed in the morning and then works with several individuals from the client team to come up with a response to the brief. After a few hours, this is pitched back to the wider client team and the process is repeated with all shortlisted agencies. 

Phillip was very positive about this approach which he said had received good feedback from the participating agencies. A lot less time and money was invested in the process by the agencies, and he said that the chance for the Bayer teams to workshop with the agency teams led to a deeper understanding of how they might work together in the future.  

Panel Discussions 

There were 2 panels and a lively debate about pitch practice in each. emotive’s Lizzie provided the agency point of view with experiences of pitches past and present. The subject of budget came up – should agencies ask for the budget, and should clients provide it? Agencies in the room seemed to agree that a ballpark figure is desirable if the agency is to put together the right tactics. The client view in the room varied – some suggested giving a ballpark would be ok, others that it is sometimes too soon to know even a rough budget for activities when a pitch takes place. 

There was a lot of discussion about feedback when a client needs to inform an agency that they didn’t win the pitch. A straw poll of the audience was conducted – how many have had inadequate feedback from clients when told they’ve lost a pitch? It appeared to be 100% of agency delegates. There was a consensus that there needs to be more transparency with losing agencies. If there isn’t time on the initial call, another call should be scheduled.  

Other panelists talked about the process used to select the winning agencies in the Pharma Times Communications Team of the Year Awards. Agencies are asked to send in a team, after just a pre-read the day before, to a live pitch situation over a few hours. Both Angie Wiles, as one of the judges, and Louise Sharp, as an agency participant, talked about the benefits of this approach. “It’s amazing how much you can do in two hours” explained Louise, “there was so much collaborative working within the agency team, high energy and great ideas”. Angie agreed that it was incredible to see what teams could achieve in a short space of time, and the chemistry and teamwork really came across as well as the focus on strategy. 

The meeting ended with an agreement that there is much more to be done to move the pitching process forward. Companies need to consider new models, whether they need a pitch at all, and very importantly need to be as transparent as possible with agencies, not just to get the best possible pitch presentations but also to allow agencies to improve and learn. 

emotive is an independent, London-based, award-winning healthcare communications agency committed to changing lives by helping global life science companies bring novel and innovative products to patients.  We recognise that only true engagement can facilitate change, & we use our combination of scientific, creative and technical expertise to stimulate optimal participation of all those in the care pathway. We are proud to work with amazing clients on some of the most exciting and meaningful products that will transform healthcare. 

If you would like to find out more about joining emotive, please contact Jade on Jade@thinkemotive.com For more information about our services email lizzie@thinkemotive.com. 



Holden House

57 Rathbone Place

London W1T 1JU - Map

+44 208 1067 900


One Broadway

Kendall Square,

Cambridge, MA 02142 - Map

Email us


Name (required)

Email (required)

Telephone number

How can we help?

Emotive copyright

Privacy Policy

footer share links