Frasier goes on a speed date and describes it as “all the stress and humiliation of a blind date x 12.” Well this is what pitching for new advertising business has become in Pakistan with humiliation x 200.
Every year we hear about pitches made and accounts exchanging hands. Yet, very little has been said about the pitch process and how to improve it. With our combined experience of 24 years working in advertising for different agencies we have gathered our own list of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly Pitching Ways in Pakistan.
1) Pitches are an equaliser. They provide a chance for the underdogs to compete against the giants and win business on sheer brilliance.
If done correctly and honestly, pitches can drive excellence in the industry spectrum. Give the little guys a chance and keep the big agencies on their toes. There is no greater thrill than to beat an agency bigger than you, fair and square.
2) Pitches demands creativity. The work has to be different, full stop. Most agencies do their most brilliant work during pitches. Without the constraints of budgets and reality checks (our CEO hates green), it is actually quite fun. And nothing beats the thrill of beating the competition.
3) Pitches can showcase different solutions to client problems and give them a flavour of what the market has to offer. They force agencies to think out of their comfort zone and learn about new categories. Even if an agency ends up losing, it will still have gained knowledge about a new category.
1) Not starting with why. Pitches are often called when a new marketing head comes on board. David Ogilvy once said that every client gets the work they deserve – so maybe the former CMO did not give the right brief? Why not test them first before sending out the RFPs. See if they can support you in creating your own legacy. The average lifecycle of a CMO in any organisation is under three years. With brand team and agencies changing so frequently, the risk of inconsistent messaging is high, resulting in long term losses for the brand. Another important aspect is the chemistry between client and agency – what type of people are they? They might not move in the same social circles as you do, but are they the right fit for your brand? Can you imagine meeting them every week?
Such long term thinking is usually missing from the decision making process.
2) Clients don’t know what they want. Most clients don’t spend time on the brief. Questions about and problems faced by the category are left to the agencies to figure out on their own, which is like shooting in the dark with a blindfold and earplugs on. In most cases the chief decision makers are not part of the briefing process and access to them is unlikely. Once the marketing manager of a multinational told us to “Google our brand’s positioning” during a pitch briefing. We were smart not to waste any more time on the pitch, although our refusal came as a shock to them. Would any client expect such as an answer from an agency? Client: “Tell us about Ogilvy”. Representative of Ogilvy: “Why don’t you Google us. Of course Google knows way more than we do.”
3) Agencies are not paid for pitching. Hence clients do not pay due attention to the brief, scope of work or on the short-listing process. Make the client pay for the pitch and we assure you that no client will dare to Facebook during a pitch presentation (yes we witnessed this too with our very own sleep-deprived-I-came-on a @#$%^&# airplane to make this presentation-eyes). When a client pays for a pitch, the agency calls in experts, spends money on research and market visits; in short the agency has the money to do justice to the job without worrying about P&L, which in turn draws in insights to the table and results in better work for the client.
4) Verdicts are given, not reasons. Of all the hundreds of interesting things Dr House said, this one is by far our favourite: “Winning doesn’t really teach you anything. You win. End of story. But losing and how you deal with it and what you take from it – that is the interesting bit.” Be a man and tell us why we lost the account. Call in the team who pitched and tell them what was lacking, what went wrong and why you decided to opt for another agency. This will ensure that the selection criteria are clear and fair from the start and acknowledged by all parties before and after the pitch. Contrary to popular belief, agencies have some tough people working for them. We are probably one of the few professional rejection receivers in the world, so we have lots of practice. Come on, throw that left hook, we can take it.
1) Pitches are used as threats. On multiple occasions we have witnessed pitches called only to threaten an incumbent agency. The incumbent agency hears about the pitch; shapes up and the account doesn’t move. As a result, five other agencies spend weeks on a wild goose chase because the current agency needed to pull up their socks. If pitches were paid for, then only genuine and well thought out briefs would land in the agency inbox. Try justifying the cost of calling in five agencies just for a laugh.
2) Stealing intellectual property. Agencies give away their most brilliant strategies and creative ideas for free. While the work belongs to the agency, clients do share one agency’s work with another agency. This is unethical and downright criminal. Once we lost a pitch for work which we considered to be very good. Life goes on... and later we discover the same client using our strategy disguised as a shoddy creative from the winning agency. Was this a coincidence? Could have been until we found out from the winning agency that the client shared our work with them, including deck. Two important morals of the story here. One, the creative agency should never send their deck to the client until they have made their decision. If the chairman cannot be bothered to come to the presentation, he doesn’t deserve to see the deck, otherwise present it to him personally in the second round. Two, clients should remember that most agency people are friends with each other and like all friends they tell each other when someone is taking them for a ride.
We don’t know how this process can be improved, yet we know that it must. Bodies such as the Marketing Association of Pakistan and the Pakistan Advertisers Society should look at standardising the new business acquisition process. One way is to make clients pay for the pitches. The other is for agencies to stop jumping up at every pitch call. Observe, analyse and do not be scared to walk away. The way clients behave during a pitch is a good indication of the type of clients they will turn out to be. Better to walk away with your head held high than to run away a year later with your tail between your legs.
Atiya Zaidi is ECD and Shazia Khan is Planning Director, Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org