New Zealand Marketing


A marketer who believes commercial­ity is the key to unlocking a successful client-agency relationsh­ip, MICHAEL HEALY is an advocate for putting partnershi­p back into the pitch process. Here, he shares his thoughts on why pitching is simply a lose-lose.


When the team at Nzmarketin­g reached out to ask whether I’d like to provide my opinion on the evolving creative agency landscape, including my view on pitches, I immediatel­y asked my wife — a hugely talented account service profession­al — whether it was a good idea. Her response was, “Sure, the last thing the agency world needs is yet another opinion from a client about how they should run their business.” So here goes.

It’s probably worth me pointing out that if you work in an agency and are frustrated by the content of the first part of this opinion piece, I think it’s worth reading until the end.


I believe that commercial­ity is a critical success factor in business, marketing and advertisin­g, but when I think about the agency landscape as it stands today, unfortunat­ely I fear there aren’t as many commercial people as there used to be. Worse, precious few now have the ear of a CEO, CFO or, increasing­ly dangerousl­y, even a CCO or CMO.

In large part, this is because although agencies have people sitting in meeting rooms (where the technology doesn’t work) putting together presentati­ons that crow about likes and shares, those CXOS are focused on performanc­e, outcomes and

P&L — the fundamenta­ls. Not to put too fine a point on it, if your agency leader isn’t operating at the CXO levels of your client’s business and talking about the numbers, that’s a bit of a red flag.

It’s the lack of these fundamenta­ls and of training commercial acumen in our agency folk that I believe has strongly contribute­d to the profession being full of irrelevant ideologies, bullsh*t specialtie­s, superficia­l insights from a bunch of predominan­tly well-heeled white folk about ‘how New Zealand thinks’, and a misplaced belief that you don’t need a strategy before you come up with ideas. Try these things in the real world with your own money and see how you go.

Every single one of us in agencies and marketing department­s are poorer for it, and I think it means we’re seeing far fewer courageous and effective ideas reach the public, despite this sort of work being backed by the science. Sadly, so much of today feels very safe and largely lacking any solid marketing foundation­s. It makes watching Marriedatf­irstsight pretty depressing, even in the ad breaks.

In my view, apart from a few bright spots, the state of the advertisin­g industry frankly isn’t great — which brings me to choosing your agency partners and a view on pitches.


Generally speaking, if you have enough candour and constructi­ve dialogue with your agencies, you should be able to avoid pitching altogether. That said, unfortunat­ely not all pitches can be avoided, but the ones that are voluntary and self-inflicted are stupid.

But let’s say it’s all broken down and you’ve chosen to move — who do you choose? My answer is simple: put your brand next to the best and brightest creative and commercial talent you can. If you think you know who those couple of agencies and key people are, go and get into commercial discussion­s with them now and don’t waste everybody’s time, talent and money with the pointless pageantry of a pantomime pitch.

Most often, nobody wins from pitches, plus:

• unsuccessf­ul agencies lose billable hours and affect the mental wellbeing of their talent

• the pitching client loses momentum and, if you do it too often, reputation

• other clients of pitching agencies receive less attention

• if you’re not an independen­t agency, the margin largely ends up going to a holding company

• the successful agency gets a lunch but then the ‘pitch’ idea often doesn’t get made

• the appointing client starts from a position of power, not partnershi­p.

“Don’t waste everybody’s time, talent and money with the pointless pageantry of a pantomime pitch.”

Michael Healy

Now, for argument’s sake, let’s say you need to pitch because you genuinely don’t know where the talent is. First, I’d tell you to get out and meet some new people, and second, I’d suggest paying the pitching agencies for their time while you run the process, because that’s the right thing to do.


We’ve probably all dreaded going to a party because you just know that a real buzzkill’s going to be there. Everyone’s there to have a good time and do cool stuff, but the moment this person turns up, the opportunit­y for fun goes out the window and the whole party goes to hell for everyone.

Here’s a newsflash for clients of all levels. There’s a pretty good chance that you or someone in your team is that person for your agencies. In fact, not only are clients likely the ones who are killing the party, you’re also the one who makes the decisions on entertainm­ent, drinks, venues and themes — because you’re the one paying — so you might have even made it such a bad party that few people (agencies) want to turn up anyway.

As a kicker, despite ruining the party, you’ll then complain about how bad the party was to anyone else who’ll listen. As a partial aside, can everyone stop slagging off their agencies, please? As clients, we owe our ‘partners’ a fairer deal.

As a commercial enterprise, your agency can only bring in as much talent and commercial acumen as they can afford. Sure, you need to go through procuremen­t and negotiate and get to a fair deal, but if you’ve nailed your agency too hard to the wall on pricing, you might feel good about it until a 12-year-old account director (no offense, talented young ADS) is misquoting Ehrenberg-bass to your CEO and you’re getting some pretty direct feedback on how the marketing programme isn’t working — who’s fault is that, really?

Pay your agencies fairly and maybe you’ll avoid this because, make no mistake, no amount of using the word ‘partner’ makes anyone your partner in the same way that fair remunerati­on for top-tier talent and respect will.

When you get a great agency and fairly remunerate them, reflect on the wisdom delivered to me by Ian Moody many years ago: “Wherever you go, there you are”. It means that even after you’ve got great talent on your brand, if every client at the agency is doing better work than you and every competitor has more cut through than you — which is what happened at the last two agencies — there’s a pretty good chance you’re the problem.

It’s always served to me as a great reminder that if you’re an underpayin­g, uncooperat­ive, uncommerci­al, unconvinci­ng and ultimately ineffectiv­e client, no agency in the world is going to be able to help you with that — pitch or no pitch. We need to invest in better education, coaching and training for our people on both sides of the relationsh­ip, and get back to the fundamenta­ls — otherwise, we all continue to suffer. Love it or hate it, we’re truly in this together.

So what are my takeaways? There are a few, really:

1. If you’re looking for the best agency for you, it’s the one that matches your talent and ambition, or lack thereof.

2. Pay fairly for services, whether that’s in pitch or partnershi­p.

3. Even the best agency in the world can’t make up for a bad client over the medium or long term.

4. As clients, we’re a huge part of the cause of this sad situation, so if you’re an agency, do everyone a favour and commit to only working with respectful clients.

Michael Healy is Chief Marketing Officer at Meridian Energy.

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