Pitch Positive Pledge

question of the week


How can the broken pitching process be fixed?

The Pitch Positive Pledge plan looks to reframe the pitch process to improve mental health, cause less wastage and reduce costs. We asked the industry how

By jeremy lee

Everyone loves a bit of alliteration and so it was that the IPA and ISBA announced the launch of the 'Pitch Positive Pledge' at last week's Renew conference.

Pitch practice (oh God, now we're at it) has always been a controversial subject with examples of poor client behaviour becoming popular topics of complaint.

There have been previous attempts to make the process easier for all involved but these have mostly focused on the 'how to'. The Pitch Positive Pledge is designed to consider the human and environmental costs.

Will the cross-industry workshops do their job in making the pitch process a more positive experience? We'll see - they are not set to launch until Mental Health Awareness Week in May. But there's no doubt that the pitch process needs fixing. So how can it be done?

Tracey Barber, global CMO, Havas Creative Group and Havas UK

‘Process’ suggests – indeed, usually is – something rigid and inflexible. ‘Pitching’ suggests, well, a pitch. Question whether the former best serves your objective, and whether the latter is necessary at all. Brands, the intermediaries that guide them, and agencies are all guilty of complacency here – reverting time and time again to the standard step-by-step process because that’s the way it’s always been done. From all sides, the opportunities to innovate are rife, yet largely untapped.

As a particularly relevant example: we recently began working with Ryvita on an initial trial (or “chemistry”) basis, before being appointed without a pitch. All it took was a different conversation to unlock all the benefits, with none of the waste. Because the ‘pitching process’ as it stands is inherently wasteful, and it’s propagated by how we measure new business “success”. In a world in which we celebrate metrics such as ‘total opportunities’ over business impact, are we really surprised?

Kirsten Stagg, head of marketing, Skoda

I am a firm believer in the critical importance of building strong partnerships with your agencies – great collaboration and trust will lead to the best outputs and this can take time to develop. If you pitch too frequently it can be hugely disruptive to the relationship and also to the smooth running of the account.

Pitches can lead to the agency being distracted and you can risk losing your best people if they are worried about the outcome. If you are happy with the quality of output from your agencies, I would advocate allowing sufficient time between pitches, three years as an absolute minimum, to provide a stable platform to build on.

Jemima Monies, chief marketing & operations officer, adam&eveDDB

New business should be a means of nurturing talent, rather than draining it. As well as looking at the overall process, we need to get people excited about pitching (again). Small changes collectively can help create a healthier and more positive experience for every individual… Invite people to join the team in a meaningful way; encourage people, regardless of role or level, to readily share their views; allow the team time to catch up on rest and their day-to-day work after the pitch; celebrate the the hard work behind losses as well as wins; and reperform the magic moments in pitches to the whole agency.

Gill Huber, managing partner, Oystercatchers

The simple truth of pitching is there will always be more losers than winners come decision day. The process will end in a decision some struggle to accept because, despite their best efforts on the day, someone else’s work is preferred to theirs. The challenge of the pitch, and most importantly for the people running the pitch, is to make the process before the decision something everyone involved can fully commit to physically, emotionally and willingly – agency and client alike, with no exceptions.

How can we fix the broken pitching process? By first accepting clients will always need to competitively assess agencies before they hire their new partner – but the rules of engagement need to include the people essential to the brilliant outcome everyone desires.

Charlie Martyn, global client development director, Wunderman Thompson

As part of the IPA New Business Group working on the Pitch Positive Pledge, this is something we’ve debated. Lots. Ultimately, we chose not to include process in this catchy alliteration. Whilst it’s inherent, we need something more principled over and above the process. A more intentional, accountable and effective standard.

Pitches are complex and expensive (and emotional!). They’re unique. So many factors at play that we can’t hope for a one-size-fits-all process. What’s more, competitive and creative, we’ll always fight process.

Instead, we’re developing more progressive commitments that brands, agencies and our intermediary friends can pledge to. Let’s be positive. By our people, our clients and the environment.

Vlad Komanicky, CEO & co-founder, Alchemists

Before starting any pitch process, the critical question to ask yourself as a client is ‘what issue or challenge am I looking to solve?’. Naturally, it’s easier to ignore a problem than address it.

Albert Einstein famously said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.

So are we insane when we often expect precisely that from a pitch? Especially when we didn’t really try to get to the bottom of the problem first? Probably.

Issues such as a lack of a good briefing process, unclear commercial model or undefined ways of working will persist with any new partner. If your problem is more about cultural fit or the agency’s creative/strategic capabilities, then a pitch might just be the solution you need.

Michelle Whelan, CEO, VMLY&R Commerce

Pitching is often central to the life of an agency, and it can be a great source of joy. It’s a process that brings people together and allows the team to show their best selves. But I think it’s time we break the ‘arms race’ that seems to be escalating with every decade. And what I’d love to see in a new pitch process is more respect and more human connections.

The goal would be to agree on a simpler, more streamlined process that recognises the work, energy and passion agency teams put in a pitch and allow client stakeholders to invest more in engaging face-to-face and 1:1 – IRL or virtually. For example, a process guarded by procurement where no one across the client or agency teams ever meets is not a great way to date.

So, here are a few principles - and examples of how they could come to life - which I think could make for a much better experience for everyone.

Respect: Timelines mindful of people’s life. Time for the agency to respond meaningfully. Fewer demands for quantity and finish of work.

Collaboration: more dating between agency and brands. Meetings as ‘workshop-y’ as possible with time for discussion and exploration

Clarity: on budget, contractual red lines, and strategic and creative tasks with one single-minded brief at hand.

Fewer “meetings” and more face-to-face time is the secret to a positive experience for all.

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