Last week’s Cog Blog on media qualifications has been picked up by The Media Leader. I aim to return to this next week once I’ve assessed the many responses on the topic.

A recent report from the media consultants, MediaSense concludes that over half of agency staff believe that pitching affects their mental health. This is a story with legs – it includes the magic words ‘pitching’ and ‘mental health’ thus virtually guaranteeing it will be picked up by all sorts of people, including AdAge.

Several agency leaders, notably the Goodstuff Founder Andrew Stephens have called for the pitching process to be rethought. Certainly, the whole thing needs to be better managed – but the people who can make that happen are, ahem, the consultants and the agencies.

I should declare an interest. We do run pitches occasionally. It’s not something BJ&A actively seeks to do, in large part because I believe that there are far too many pitches, and they are often called for the worst of reasons.

Kellogg’s used to give all their brand managers a basic guide to working with ad agencies. The first paragraph said something like: ‘It is not your job to change the ad agency. It is your job to get the best from the ad agency.’

I’ve always lived by that. When asked to run a pitch the first thing we try to do is to talk the client out of it. Why do they want to pitch? What are they hoping to achieve? Has it occurred to them that the issue, whatever it is, could be at their end, not their agency’s? Have they talked openly to their agency’s leaders?

I’m not naïve enough to believe that most pitch consultants will do this. After all, running pitches is not a large part of what we do.

But even when we do them, we are very clear as to the rules of engagement. The consultant’s task, as I see it is to make life hard for the client by ensuring every agency does a wonderful job.

That takes time, so the consultant needs to ensure participants are given the time. It’s no good just agreeing to the client’s timeline and then beating up the agencies to ensure it is met.

The consultant is hired to give proper, best-in-class advice. And that very much includes advising, even pushing back on the timeline.

Consultants should make themselves available to the agencies throughout the process. Try and answer their questions, listen to their concerns, find answers from the client if you need to.

I’ve been in enough pitches as the agency to know how important the role of the consultant can be. I’ve also seen enough terrible examples of how not to do it. ‘Don’t question me’, ‘don’t expect me to revert to the client for you’, ‘just do what you’re told’, ‘keep to the timing’, ‘sorry the rules have changed but no you’re not to know why, nor will you be given any more time.’ I’ve had all of these and more from well-respected (in their own heads at least) pitch consultants.

Too many consultants have never run pitches as an agency, aren’t experienced and are simply following orders.

After the event, the consultant needs to feedback honestly and constructively. Tell the losing agencies why they lost. Telling them the client ‘just wasn’t excited’ by them is neither helpful, nor constructive. It may be part of the truth, but explaining why is always appreciated.

Avoiding feedback is cowardly, and unprofessional.

Agencies can help themselves too. If you’re not given the time to do your best, say so. Loudly, and upfront. Don’t feel you have to pitch everything. After all, if clients run a terrible pitch, odds are they’ll turn out to be a dreadful client.

Last week Brandtech Group acquired Jellyfish. This isn’t the place to comment on the deal, which I do think is an excellent one for both parties, but I was very taken with Nick Emery’s comment on pitching in an interview with The Media Leader:

“We don’t want to be in the business of year-long procurement-led pitches for 120-day payment terms. If you are that kind of client, then don’t bother. I’d much rather be the kind of New Age version of BBH, where you don’t have to pitch if you (don’t) want to.”

I always loved pitches, the drama, the excitement, the teamwork, and yes, the stress.

But I can well see that others feel differently.

It doesn’t sit well for consultants and agencies to complain as if the stress and strain happens in a world where they have no say, and no responsibility.

They can do something about it. Yes, so could clients, but clients hire consultants to run these things for them. The responsibility sits with the consultants, and the agencies themselves. They can encourage and drive change.

But they don’t, and I very much fear they won’t.

  1. Hi Brian, I feel I may have something to contribute to this. I was in charge of big (>£1m) pitches at Kantar at the end of my time there… and I won 13 out of 13 pitches before I left by using an approach I had developed over the previous 30 or so pitches. Let me know if you’d like a copy of my write-up of the approach.

  2. Thanks Dan – I would love to see it! It clearly works…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *