Life is a pitch. Just ask advertising people who are attending one pitch session after another for new business. Or advertisers, who are either reviewing the performance of their current agency partners or are inviting agencies to pitch for new business.
Clients, especially those coping with slowing sales, hope a change of agency partners will rejuvenate their brands. But when the turnaround doesn’t happen, which is quite often the case, it’s usually because the wrong agency was chosen.
The problem is, some pitch processes still take the more unilateral, beauty parade route that pushes agencies to display their snappiest creative work before client panels. Many experts say that this approach is too contrived and does not reveal the true, everyday chemistry between the agency and the client or an agency’s ability to come up with solutions instantaneously. Some pitch consultants stress that the pitching process, especially the final round, should be made more collaborative since the client-agency relationship is both dynamic and collaborative.
Here’s what Greg Paull, principal, R3, a consultancy specializing in marketing efficiency and effectiveness which is currently leading agency reviews for Visa, Tiffany China and Maybank Singapore, has to say. “Asking an agency to come back three weeks later with creative ideas defeats the purpose of why you’re hiring them. You’re looking to find a partner to collaborate with you, not work in isolation. It would be akin to having two synchronized swimmers practising apart—you will end up in the final pitch watching some great moves, but no idea on how it will connect with you.” His recommendation: “We’ve found (that) a workshop as a final round of a pitch can be much more illuminating than the ‘beauty pageant’ of a formal presentation. The relationship then starts on a much sounder footing and tends to last longer.”
Here’s how R3 uses workshops in the final round. It sets up two agency-client sessions lasting two to three hours each. No real preparation is possible for the two competing agencies apart from research on the category—this system rewards those who think well on their feet. Each agency and client team is split into two groups that “pitch” against each other. End result? “Suddenly, the agency people become team members, not vendors. Through the process, the senior clients instantly know the agency they want to work with, which one has the smart thinkers and partners. The agencies invest far less in unnecessary creative time—and the process bonds both together much more than any review,” says Paull.
Pitch consultants such as Meenakshi Madhvani, founder of Spatial Access Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd, however, say it is naive to expect collaborations before you select the partner. “You can never do a preview of client and agency working together because a real life situation is very different from the controlled environs of a pitch. Also during a pitch, the senior team at the agency are at the client’s beck and call; once the account is assigned, their diaries get full with other similiar engagements!”
What makes sense is for the client to have a very clear idea of what it needs as against what it wants. It may want a Ferrari but may need a Maruti Swift! If its expectations are not realistic, it is being set up for disappointment, she adds.
It’s all about horses for courses. Ad industry veterans such as Arvind Sharma, chairman, Leo Burnett, South Asia, tell me there are different types of clients with different needs and ways of interaction. In everyday working situations, some may want the way shown by the agency, some may seek collaboration, some may want huge volumes such as an ad a day. It’s critical to have realistic alignments between client expectations and the agency’s delivery capabilities. The way I see it, while the pitch process may always be contrived and far removed from reality, some fresh thinking could rejuvenate this often jaded, not always insightful, process. Bring in challenging workshops, idea conclaves or even the circus into the ring—anything which gets agencies and clients actually working together during the pitch would make for a better marriage later.
As Paull puts it, finding an agency to work with you has never been more challenging—there’s more choice, more specialization and more need for collaboration than ever before. The marketers who invest the time to have a good process will reap the rewards.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also Read Marion Arathoon’s earlier columns