Jemima Monies
Aug 24, 2023

Why it's time to take pitching on a date

Pitching is at its heart a human process, run by people for people, so why not apply the lessons of good dating etiquette to it?

McCann London COO, Jemima Monies.
Photo: Campaign UK.
McCann London COO, Jemima Monies. Photo: Campaign UK.

Expensive, political and process-y. Pitching has struggled for a long time to shake off its bad rep.

The Pitch Positive Pledge (in the UK) seeks to enhance the existing process, and the financial cost of pitching is currently being hotly debated.

As someone who’s built a career on pitching, my view is that anything that fights for better practice in one of the most challenging areas of agency life is worth pursuing.  

But when you strip it down to its core, pitching is a human process, run by people for people. 

A "getting to know you" stage fuelled by more feeling than logic, and more heart than brain—with joyful highs and, as Nick Emmel duly noted, painful losses.

As such, it has more than a little bit in common with the business of modern dating.

So, what if we applied the lessons of dating to pitching? 

Introducing some alternative rules of attraction for those who find themselves on the agency dating scene…

When you know, you know

Our industry is built on relationships. If you love working with an individual or team so much that you want to work with them (again), feel empowered to move your business without a pitch. If that means convincing the board or procurement, invest the time. It’s better than stringing a bunch of hopefuls along when they don’t stand a chance.

Lose any baggage 

Carve out time to understand any unconscious bias you may have for or against people or agencies on your long list. Perhaps you dated them in a different role or didn’t have a good experience with an agency under a different leadership team. People and agencies grow and evolvework hard to level the playing field before you put anyone on the pitch. If you really can’t, that’s fine, but keep swiping.

Don’t force chemistry

If you feel it’s not there, then consider whether it’s truly worth continuing to see the client. The dynamics during the dating phase are generally a good indicator of what it would be like to step out together formally. Pulling out of a pitch Is hard, particularly when the stakes are high, but more often than not your gut will be right.

Avoid getting so lost in lust that you forget to do your due diligence. Ask whether marketing procurement is involved, and if so, engage them from the start to really understand the needs of the business and what value looks like. Often the RFI doesn’t carry the level of detail needed to fully understand the commercial picture and you don’t want to find yourself having spent the first years’ fee during the pitch process. 

Go public

Once you’ve got your final pitch list, tell the agencies who else you’re dating. In any competitive sport the teams can see who they are up against. Full transparency can contribute only to a fairer process.

Use each other

Agencies, there is no point declining to pitch the day after Easter if the competition is seemingly happy to. Assuming you know the other agencies involved, have an informal chat with them to see how you might educate the client on positive pitch practice.

The language of love

While agency leaders ultimately have a duty of care to protect the wellbeing of their staff, clients can play a role too by considering the little things that make a big difference. No more Monday 9am or Friday 4pm starts please, bring the same client team to every meeting and welcome agencies to your offices like you would any guest.

No ghosting

Still too often intermediaries are delivering the bad news and the feedback is non-specific. The little things go a long way in helping agencies learn and evolve, so spend the time collating your feedback and don’t be afraid to raise anything that might help them in their next dalliance. 

Bring the LOLs

We can all play a role in making the process more enjoyable, win or lose. It’s not ideal when the branded biscuits come back the perfect size for a borrower or the fire alarm goes off just as you’re about to do the big reveal. But it’s not the end of the world. Let’s laugh together more in those moments and keep the dating stage fun. Even if it doesn’t lead to a long-term commitment, everyone will have enjoyed moments on the dates and hopefully learnt something along the way.

Jemima Monies is chief operating officer at McCann London

Campaign UK

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