Question of the week

Does the IPA and ISBA's Pitch Positive Pledge go far enough?

The newly-released Pitch Positive Pledge aims to improve the behaviour of agencies by encouraging a more transparent pitch process

By Olivia Atkins

Including providing guaranteed feedback with each pitch, regardless of whether an agency wins or loses, the Pitch Positive Pledge aims to remove some of the anxiety and silence around pitching. For too long, clients have coordinated pitches that have been unnecessary, costly or unfairly selected but this initiative hopes to reprioritise the wellbeing of creatives and reduce wasted efforts.

Inspired by a collective renewed focus on wellbeing which emerged during the pandemic, the pledge sets out a number of conditions for clients and agencies to meet, promising to most benefit creatives participating in the pitching process by shedding light on how they can improve.

With over 70 companies already signed up, we spoke to a number of industry insiders to find out how they think the pledge will improve agency life, if at all. Find out more about the pitch pledge here.

Larissa Vince, chief executive office, TBWA\London

I do admire the intent of this initiative, and the fact that it unites clients and agencies around what continues to be a tortuous challenge for our industry.

Some of the commitments have the potential to have a real impact. I particularly like the language around incumbents - do they genuinely have an equal chance of winning? And how many times have we as agencies entered a process in good faith only to discover halfway through that the senior decision maker is too busy to attend half the pitch meetings.

I would have loved to see some commitment around minimum value though. No pitch below a certain annual fee would really set a line in the sand around what clients can reasonably expect agencies to invest vs the end reward.

Andrew Stephens, founding partner, Goodstuff

Any initiative that can improve pitching business efficacy and impact on employees, is hugely welcome.

The challenge, however, is with smaller or non-ISBA clients in their treatment of incumbent agencies. It amazes me how often I hear a prospective client saying the re-pitching incumbent has little chance of retaining - and I’m pretty sure that has not been communicated to the other agency. I understand the reasons why clients do this, but we need to create an environment that encourages greater honesty and guidance on how to professionally and profitably enable a parting of the ways to avoid wasted agency resources and impact on employees.

Jemima Monies, chief marketing & operations officer at adam&eveddb and former co-chair of the IPA New Business & Marketing Group

It’s encouraging to see this brilliant initiative tackling so many long-standing issues regarding the pitch process, from the need for more transparency to the prioritisation of wellbeing of everyone involved. But it will only truly make a difference if agencies hold clients accountable to these reforms, and vice versa. Agency and new-business leaders must stand together as a collective, with the support of intermediaries, to address situations where conditions outlined in the pledge are not met.

Jon Goulding, chief executive officer, Atomic London

Of course it’s a good thing for both the agency and client-side industry bodies to come together to promote more positive pitch practice. I’m all for it. But like the best pitch feedback, you learn and change behaviour based on really highlighting the areas that need to be fixed rather than just all the positive behaviours that need to be reenforced. For me, being really clear on the poor pitch behaviours that should be avoided at all cost, of which there are consistently about five things, might accelerate positive change beyond what’s been laid out by ISBA and IPA. And it’s the elimination of those things that will genuinely improve agency success rate, commercial success as a result and improved mental health along the way.

Kate Howe, executive director, MSQ

I think the Pitch Positive Pledge is a fantastic idea – though as Honorary Secretary of the IPA, you may not be surprised to hear me say that! I think there are two reasons it’s essential – and why all our MSQ agencies are signing up. Firstly, it’s brilliant to see clients and agencies coming together, presenting a united front and pledging to be better moving forward. But secondly, the timing couldn’t be more important. Increasingly we’re pitching to marketers of scale-ups, D2C businesses and other brands who haven’t necessarily gone through the classic marketing training that preaches the pitching fundamentals. Not everyone does the Unilever marketing scheme! Codifying what good looks like is therefore crucial to building a strong platform for this brave new world.


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