Agencies need to take the mental health of their employees more seriously when it comes to new-business pitching after a year of the pandemic, a new survey has found.
The Great Pitch Company, a pitch consultancy company founded in 2018 by Marcus Brown, has unveiled its inaugural survey of business development practices across the industry’s top UK agencies.
It paints a picture of an agency sector stressed by inadequate resources, overburdened with heavy workloads and a lack of respect for their personal time when it comes to new-business pitching.
In total, 80 people responded to The Great Pitch Poll 2021, of which 79% were in senior director roles, a third in senior management and almost half in new business and marketing positions.
Here are the key findings from the survey, which was conducted at the start of this year:
New business challenges
Overall, the four biggest challenges to new business in 2020 were heavy workloads (61%), pitching virtually (52%), lack of staff resources to work on pitches (51%) and working remotely (48%).
Other challenges included increasingly complex pitch requirements (37%), reduced pitch activity in the marketplace (35%) and increased competition from other agencies (30%).
Looking ahead to this year, respondents expected the four main challenges outlined above to be the same in 2021, but there was a rise in those who thought competition from other agencies would be a problem (43%).
The majority of survey respondents thought their agencies were taking mental health seriously as a general topic, but many said they were not practising what they preached when it came to the practicalities of new business.
Overall, 72% felt their organisations regularly communicated on issues of mental wellbeing, with 51% saying they had “made great strides” to implement plans to promote mental wellbeing and a further 40% stating their organisation had started to implement such plans.
But when asked if they were getting support in the new business area, there were some worrying findings: 36% don’t feel respected, 45% don’t feel supported by their line manager, 56% don’t get regular check-ins and 58% don’t think their regular workload is taken into consideration.
More than eight in ten agency staff say they want their existing workload to be rebalanced so that they can devote the necessary time and energy to pitching and new business.
According to 68% of respondents, the best way agencies could support their staff’s mental health when it came to new business, was to enforce better ways of working, such as banning emails at weekends. Having specific policies around these issues (59%) and dedicated days off for staff (59%) were the next popular interventions.
People also wanted their employers to be respectful of personal commitments (85%) and take their existing workloads into consideration or help them to rebalance it (84%).
"In the past, working long hours on a pitch through the night or over the weekend were seen as badges of honour,” Marcus Brown, founder and chief executive of The Great Pitch Company said.
“Given greater awareness and understanding of mental health, thankfully our industry seems to be turning its back on such poor beliefs. However there is still a long way to go, to ensure an agency's ambition of protecting the mental health of their staff is translated into the realities of pitching.”
He said some of the most effective agencies with whom he has worked have improved their resourcing and planning to avoid weekend working. They also take a respectful approach to team members with regular mental health check-ins along with a rebalancing of existing workloads.
While Brown said he understood the challenges of pitches, he argued: “The consequences for individuals and their mental health cannot be ignored and as an industry we must work together to ensure that pitching is done in a responsible and professional manner."
In terms of diversity and new business, the findings reveal a significant inclusivity gap between what agencies delivered in 2020 and the desired expectation for 2021.
Eight in ten (79%) respondents wanted to see more diversity on pitch teams this year, while three quarters (75%) wanted to see pitch responses better consider diverse audiences in an inclusive way.
They were also keen to see more action on age, disability and ethnic diversity.
The area of new business training that was most in demand was strategy/storytelling (75%), presentation or performance coaching (58%), prospecting (47%) and commercial competence (47%).