4 February 2011 - 12:07pm | posted by | 3 comments

Gordon Young's Leader: is there a cure for the pitching disease?

Gordon Young's Leader: is there a cure for the pitching disease?Gordon Young's Leader: is there a cure for the pitching disease?

Gordon Young wrote a leader for the current issue of The Drum which dealt with the St Andrews University and MerseyTravel pitching rows

There is much angst about how the two public bodies conducted their pitch processes. Disquiet at public sector tendering – even the concept of free speculative creative pitching – is nothing knew (in fact forgive us as we stifle a yawn).

But what makes these two cases stand out is that the anger expressed by the creative community is almost palpable.
And quite right so. It has emerged MerseyTravel – who run everything from a bus service to the famous Mersey Ferry service – ‘shortlisted’ 29 agencies to pitch for its business, before appointing two.

However, this controversy pales into insignificance, in the case of the University of St Andrews. It invited 47 design consultancies to pitch for a design project, before handing the brief to an in-house team.

The two cases make it clear that even in an age of professional procurement the pitch process is too often being abused by clients.

And the truly depressing things is just how unproductive this cycle of gloom really is. The collective costs of all the agencies involved no doubt dwarf the project budgets they are hoping to win; as does the effort the client has to expend running such an inefficient process. For example, who on earth has the time to sit through 20/30 or 40 presentations?

But the solutions are not straightforward. It will simply require more agencies taking a stand and refusing to involve themselves in pitches where, say, more than three consultancies have been shortlisted.
Particularly in a recession that will be a hard-call. But it is vital the industry holds the line. The alternative is the industry leaping lemming-like over the cliff and into oblivion.

Gordon Young is editor of The Drum.


7 Feb 2011 - 11:19
paul_bennison's picture

The ISBA and IPA are working together to improve pitch practices. Link to their research here: http://www.isba.org.uk/isba/news/768

I can also add a story to the mix from 2010 where we were involved in a pitch process for a major utility. As part of the second stage they had reduced the agency list down to 20 (yes 20) and requested each to:

* Submit answers to about 10 questions * Redesign a leaflet (in the same CI using the same images, copy and format?!?) * Create a new campaign for a project. * AND reformat a 50 page business plan document into their CI. Not the cover and a spread - but ALL 50 pages.

As the deadline drew close, they succumbed to pressure and withdrew the request for the reformatting. And also cancelled the requirement for the redesigned leaflet (after the incumbent who was also involved in the process, wondered what was actually wrong with their leaflet that they'd designed and had approved only 6 months earlier.

Oh, and to make matters worse, none of the design or creative actually carried any weight in the marking system, it all came down to cost.


8 Feb 2011 - 11:22
giles_moffatt's picture

Standard Life Investments invited 10 agencies in Scotland to pitch for their 2005 Christmas Card.

The brief requested a 30 minute presentation, to include strategy.

Enough said, really.

Anonymous (not verified)
10 Feb 2011 - 17:04
Anonymous's picture

Apologies for the Anon post, but I have seen so many 'briefs' come in where the Client ask us to detail 'our' strategy without them setting anything in the brief or allowing us the chance to come and speak to them. So the Client fails to come up with a single line or paragraph yet expects us to do so while operating in a virtual vacuum. It’s not a game of Snap you know!

And there are the ones who ask for creative work as part of the initial proposal & costings. Why ask for work you may not be able to afford?

Often that is followed by a briefing session, yes followed by. When we ask why it is done in that order the reply is often ‘it was just to get a flavour of what you can do’.

It’s lucky we had so much downtime to donate to this exciting project....


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