The Problem with Pitches

Pitches are weird things. They’re expensive, and a lot of that cost is in the wear and tear on agency people and the self-confidence of the agency as a whole – no one wins every pitch. They’re a contest – but usually, the agency doesn’t know the rules used in the judging. They’re artificial – the agency will never work blindly like this again. Does the way in which creative agencies pitch need an overhaul? What would make pitches better or fairer?

Let’s find out from five top tier creatives who have survived more than their fair share of them.

Rob Martin Murphy, executive creative director, Ikon communications

There’s no problem with pitches at all. If you win them. Ha.

I do think the creative pitch process in its current, most common form could do with a refresh.

The idea that setting a brief, disappearing for two or so weeks, then returning to judge various jazz hands ensembles, is somehow the best way to pick your long-term (hopefully) agency partner? Well, I’m not so sure about that.

Even with the added incentive (and I use that word loosely) of a pitch fee, it’s never enough to cover the time, money and redirection of resources that an agency will commit to for however long the process takes.

What’s more, how well does a client really get to know the agency? How well does the agency really get to know the client and their business?

Let’s just say it’s imperfect. Or, to be blunt, an unnatural state for both client and agency to find themselves working in.

An alternative approach might be for a client to pick a few agencies doing work they like, invite them for lunch, get to know them as people, get a sense of their ambition, beliefs and perspectives (and vice versa) then, if lunch goes well, get them back in later for a workshop to try crack a challenging problem. In just a few days, the right agency partner will become abundantly clear.

Simple, really.

Oh look, over there, it’s a unicorn at the end of a rainbow…gotta run, there’s another pitch briefing on.

Gavin McLeod, executive creative director, Ogilvy Sydney

As we accelerate into a project world, I’ve come to both love and hate pitches.

I love the adrenaline rush of pitching and how the forced focus so often leads to amazing creative work. But I hate that this work rarely sees the light of day. If clients want agencies to pitch for their business, they need to buy the ideas presented.

I hate it when clients offer to pay, usually nominal, pitch fees – but want our IP! Giving away our creative thinking is not good business. So I love it when agencies, like my previous studio AKQA San Francisco, have the guts to turn down pitch fees to retain their IP.

Lastly, I hate the emotional and physical drain of pitching. There was once an unspoken rule that when a pitch was over you would have a few days to recoup. Nowadays agencies are running so lean there’s barely time to recover and we are burning out talented people.

My love-hate relationship has taught me that rather than hate something, I’d rather try to change it. Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about disruption – about how to get to ideas quicker and execute them faster. I love experimenting with ways to break down internal barriers to create small, cross-functional teams that are empowered to move fast. And I’m wondering about how we bring clients into the creative process earlier and in more meaningful ways.

I don’t always get it right. But I’m trying to change that.

Read the full article on The Stable here.

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