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.

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