After a pitch process is completed, agencies can sometimes be rewarded with a lucrative new client, a strong new team dynamic, and an exciting creative job. More often than not, all they get is a rejection phone call, unpaid overtime and a nice helping of burnout.
The pitching process isn’t perfect – some might even say it’s broken – and slowly, the industry is beginning to push back against its extensive procedure and requirements of staff.
In May, the Pitch Positive Pledge was launched by the IPA and ISBA, aiming to improve transparency, mental wellbeing, quality of work and reduce costs and wastage.
The agency promised to invest first-year profits from new clients into programmes that help the next generation get into creativity, as long as clients appoint them after the chemistry meeting.
Part of Mother’s Pitch It Forward initiative, which aims to limit the “relentless pitching merry-go-round", TBWA\London joined soon after.
And it could work. Speaking to Campaign previously, Martin Jones, managing partner at intermediary AAR, said: “It really is to me the most important meeting in any pitch process. That’s the one I would never do away with.”
After Mother and TBWA\London put their cards on the table, Campaign asked some more of adland’s best and brightest to pitch in with their own perspective.
Global chief marketing officer, Havas Creative Group
Havas’ recent research report, which examined the increasing role of procurement in client/agency selection and ongoing relationships, found more than half believe agencies overpromise and underdeliver. Clearly, the current system isn’t delivering, so I’m all for shaking things up – for the mutual benefit of brands and agencies alike.
Recent initiatives, however, which look at tweaking established processes in isolation, start at the wrong point. It’s not about process. It’s about partnership.
We’ve begun running workshops, with marketing, procurement, agency and new business teams together, to craft better ways of working. There’s no reason the same approach can’t be applied to the "pitch process", with the onus on collaboration and mutual problem-solving rather than simply repurposing one stage of an antiquated process.
It requires candour, brutal honestly and the ability to say (and hear) "no", but will, I’d wager, lead to longer lasting and more mutually satisfying relationships.
Group chief marketing officer, VCCP
Of course, we should aspire to end a pitch process early and save all that time, money, wastage and stress. In many cases a chemistry meeting and strategic discussion will suffice. Agencies should be judged on the chemistry in the room and the past work they have delivered for other clients, after all, it's the people who make the work happen. But we'd be naive to think there won't be instances where clients will want to see the work and that's fine too, as long as they take responsibility and are prepared to pay for it. Not a token £5,000 but a real contribution that is representative of the hours and time spent on developing a full-blown creative pitch.
This is happening on occasion, but we are some way off this becoming standard. I am delighted to see the industry-wide uptake of the Pitch Positive Pledge and hope this signals a more intentional and accountable era of agency selection.
Chief marketing officer, The Beyond Collective
I want with all my being to say a resounding yes to this. A shorter process focused on the talent that’ll be working on your business, not the development of an idea that’ll never see the light of day, should be the way forward, right? The reality, though, is that very few agencies ever walk away from opportunities as a result of the pitch process – especially if the size of the prize at the end is significant. Recent headlines and the IPA’s Pitch Positive Pledge are signs that there is a desire to have something more appropriately shaped, but real lasting change will come from us all saying no a little bit more.
Lead consultant, AAR Group
A selection process is an insurance policy – it gives clients the evidence they need to feel confident in their choice of agency. Some can appoint on case studies, but others need to understand how an agency might approach their challenge, or what it would be like to work together. After all, clients are buying a team who they want to work with to get to the answer, and one "date" might not be enough to know they’ve found "the one". However, any process always needs to be commensurate with the size of the prize. When budgets are low, appointing after chemistry is fair. But with so much on the line for clients – their business, their reputation, or even their job – I can appreciate why some need a greater insurance policy.
Founder, The Barber Shop
I admire the independent act and path laid by Mother. Everyone knows the pitch process as we know it is broken, yet the recent moves to improve it by the Pitch Positive initiative didn’t go far enough to make a material difference. At The Alliance of Independent Agencies, our advice is to ditch the unpaid pitch. Too much creativity and IP is given away in a "pitch show", which is often won by things not transparently disclosed, such as previous relationships, or reciprocal guarantees.
Too often clients are disappointed by senior pitch teams no longer working on the business, or ideas and promises that couldn’t be delivered and, equally, agencies are often met with budget promises that are never realised. We need procurement to do what they do, and measure what they can, and we need intermediaries to present options that fit the brief. However, we also need the industry to back down from the costly and outdated practice of the pitch. At The Barber Shop having learnt from bad pitches in the past, we have a policy to write proposals and do chemistries, but we don’t pitch. This means we put all our time into clients we work with and clients who want to work with us.
Chief strategy officer and co-founder, Bicycle
Pitching can be brilliant. From a strategist’s point of view, when it’s done well, it can be the very best of our job: problem-solving unencumbered by legacy, history and muscle-memory. Done poorly, of course, it can be a nightmare of epic proportions: a financial, emotional, mental wellness and resource drain. I wouldn’t like to see it disappear completely; "positive pitching" is great for an agency’s fitness as well as team members' development but, as a whole, we (clients and agencies) need to get better at sharpening the process and saying no earlier.
Chemistry meetings are misused; they really can sometimes be enough – far too often the stage after is simply a "vanity parade" that does nobody any favours. If an elongated process is justified and going to be valued, then fine, but let’s be open and honest about when it really isn’t: especially (on the media side) when a wonderful piece of thinking is destined from day one to be binned off in favour of a 2% reduction in price. Mother’s stance is to be applauded but a real and lasting step change requires us all to get behind it, and stick to it.
Chief executive, Flock Associates
No. The pitch process (long, short, complex, simple, high-level, granular, cheap, expensive etc) is the chemistry session – an artificial process designed to highlight from both sides whether you can work together. Pitches should not be laborious; they should be fun, exhilarating and demanding on both sides. Hundreds of pitches later, we’ve seen some lousy chemistry flourish into long-standing relationships and brilliant chemistry simply fizzle into disappointment.
Hedging your bets on a multimillion-pound commercial relationship based on a first date in this climate is a very high-risk strategy. Pitches can be lengthy, expensive and time consuming, but the rewards, if you win, far outway the effort. Yes, we need to attract future talent but I’m not sure ditching pitches and appointing based on chemistry is the panacea.