Will agen­cies pitch less of­ten?

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE -

Could a slow­down in the num­ber of late nights and client pre­sen­ta­tions be the price of progress

Pitch­ing is what gets ad folk up in the morn­ing. “It’s our lifeblood,” an agency boss re­marks. “Ev­ery­body rel­ishes the chal­lenge that hunt­ing new busi­ness pro­vides.”

But if pitch­ing is the in­dus­try’s “life sup­port sys­tem”, are clients show­ing a re­luc­tance to sus­tain it? On the face of it, that would be the con­clu­sion from UK mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy AAR’s latest new-busi­ness sur­vey, which re­ports a 14 per cent drop in the num­ber of com­pleted ac­count re­views dur­ing the first nine months of the year.

Client un­cer­tainty about Brexit and the in­creas­ing em­pha­sis agen­cies are putting on or­ganic growth through win­ning more busi­ness from ex­ist­ing clients are cited by AAR as the main rea­sons for the fall.

Sup­pose, how­ever, that AAR’s find­ing has un­earthed not merely a cycli­cal trend but a more fun­da­men­tal and per­ma­nent shift in the way agen­cies and clients do busi­ness?

David Wethey, chair­man of Agency As­sess­ments In­ter­na­tional, is cer­tain this is the case. “There will be fewer pitches in fu­ture,” he pre­dicts. “The bull mar­ket for pitch­ing is al­most cer­tainly over.”

For agen­cies and clients alike, pitch­ing has be­come a last rather than a first resort. Not only do com­pa­nies find their room for ma­noeu­vre in­hib­ited by pro­cure­ment spe­cial­ists but switch­ing agen­cies can put both cor­po­rate and per­sonal rep­u­ta­tions at risk.

Mean­while, agen­cies are re­coil­ing from the cost and com­plex­ity of pitch­ing. “Agen­cies have been fo­cus­ing on client re­ten­tion and or­ganic growth be­cause pitches are get­ting ever-more ex­pen­sive and labyrinthine,” Tom Knox, chair­man of Mullen-Lowe Lon­don and pres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute of Prac­ti­tion­ers in Ad­ver­tis­ing, says.

“You have to fill in long re­quests for in­for­ma­tion be­fore you even get to a chem­istry meet­ing, and that’s be­fore any work you do goes into lengthy re­search,” he adds.

The up­shot is that agen­cies are get­ting pick­ier about what they will con­test. “One-off projects make no sense,” Liz Wil­son, Kar­marama’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, in­sists. “Be­fore pitch­ing, you have to know the size of the prize.”

So has pitch­ing be­come passé? Some be­lieve re­views will pick up again if and when the Brexit- re­lated ner­vous­ness sub­sides and when start-ups, par­tic­u­larly in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor, reach suf­fi­cient size to re­quire com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­vice.

Also, the pool of good agen­cies from which clients can pick grows ever larger. “Fif­teen years ago, clients had a per­cep­tion that there was a Cham­pi­ons League of agen­cies,” a lead­ing in­ter­me­di­ary says. “Now, they don’t think there’s any such a thing.”

What’s more, while big show­piece con­tests may be­come the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule, pitches may be­come more plen­ti­ful but more spe­cial­ist.

“We’re hav­ing a busy new-busi­ness year,” Wil­son says. “But that’s be­cause we of­fer lots of dif­fer­ent ser­vices and the briefs may range from data strat­egy to mo­bile. The def­i­ni­tion of a pitch is chang­ing.”

Mean­while, the fre­netic amount of me­dia pitch­ing shows lit­tle sign of di­min­ish­ing, partly be­cause of the pace of change in the sec­tor and be­cause of what one in­ter­me­di­ary calls “a race to the bot­tom on price”.

At the end of the day, the de­cline of the pitch may be the price of progress. “This is an evolution that needed to hap­pen,” Wethey says. “It’s less fun but it means we’re be­com­ing a se­ri­ous busi­ness.”

I NTER MEDIARY Martin Jones Man­ag­ing part­ner, AAR

“Num­bers of pitches are down be­cause clients don’t want to call them un­less they ab­so­lutely need to. And be­cause chief ex­ec­u­tives and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tors are wor­ried about their jobs should any­thing go wrong, they tend to be more cir­cum­spect.

“Also, the main rea­son why clients re­view their cre­ative agen­cies is be­cause they feel they’re not get­ting the ser­vice they need. Now, with agency man­age­ments spend­ing less time on pitches and more on ex­ist­ing clients, why would those clients want to re­view?

“The fact that the num­ber of pitches in­creased in 2015 and is now down again sug­gests these things are cycli­cal.”

T R ADE BODY Deb­bie Mor­ri­son Di­rec­tor of con­sul­tancy and best prac­tice, ISBA

“At ISBA, we’ve seen no de­cline in the 100 or so pitches we run each year. How­ever, these are not nec­es­sar­ily clas­sic cre­ative pitches. Nor are they al­ways very vis­i­ble.

“It re­flects the way that the dy­namic of the mar­ket is chang­ing and the way clients are look­ing for sim­plic­ity in a very com­plex world. Asda putting both its cre­ative and me­dia ac­counts into Publi­cis Groupe ear­lier this year with­out a pitch is a good ex­am­ple.

“Big pitches are get­ting fewer as com­pa­nies such as R/GA and Ac­cen­ture build their ex­per­tise to work di­rectly with chief ex­ec­u­tives and agen­cies broaden their of­fer­ings to keep ex­ist­ing clients happy.”

Sarah Todd Chief ex­ec­u­tive, Ge­om­e­try Global UK AGENCY CHIEF

“I don’t think there will be fewer pitches. I do think that pitches have changed in shape, size and source.

“We’ve seen growth in pitches this year across in­dus­try part­ners, in­ter­me­di­aries and through di­rect con­tact.

“Busi­nesses are de­mand­ing hard com­mer­cial re­sults from mar­ket­ing. As a re­sult, brands are in­ves­ti­gat­ing new ways to un­der­stand and trig­ger pur­chase be­hav­iour.

“There’s also an in­creas­ing need for up­stream con­sul­tancy to de­ter­mine how to op­ti­mise and learn.

“Agency pitches are chang­ing by na­ture in line with cus­tomer and com­mer­cial changes rather than by vol­ume.”

MAR­KETER David Whel­don Chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, Royal Bank of Scot­land; pres­i­dent, World Fed­er­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ers

“Choos­ing an agency through a pitch is a bit like pick­ing your wife by chat­ting up the first girl you meet at a disco. It might work but it’s hardly the best way of set­ting out on a sus­tain­able long-term re­la­tion­ship.

“My view of pitches is that they are a mas­sive waste of ev­ery­body’s time and money. That’s why I think there will be fewer of them in fu­ture and why I think and hope that pitches will be paid for.

“Surely it’s much bet­ter to work on a chem­istry ba­sis with an agency you think you’re likely to get along with?”

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