The process of clients and agencies coming together over a pitch process is often compared to the start of a romantic relationship. And like many love affairs, all too often client and agency relationships can end in disappointment and dysfunction.
Perhaps the process might go a little better if agencies learned some lessons in how best to seduce another person?
Let’s think about it. On a first date we want – of course – for the evening to go well and for the other person to like us. We try hard – perhaps a little too hard - to impress: to be funny and intelligent, to wear nice shoes, to drop in a casual mention of how we once competed at the junior Winter Olympics in the luge category, or that we rather like swimming in moonlit lakes...
But as a rule, dates don’t go too well when we try to convince our prospective partner that we are the smartest, wittiest and most sophisticated person they have ever met. These kinds of things only succeed in conveying that we are insufferably self-regarding or - worse still - that we are unwilling to deal with the messy realities of intimacy.
We are at our most charming rather, when we can do two things well; display insightful self-knowledge and show perceptive generosity to the other person.
The first component in good seduction is when we are able to acknowledge our weaknesses in a reassuringly strong manner. For example, it can be hugely seductive to confidently confess that even coming on the date made us rather nervous. That’s a sign both of insight and strength. We’re not simply giving free reign to our weaknesses - we are displaying vulnerability but in the context of our capacity to handle it lightly.
The second hugely seductive move is to signal that we view the other person with a mixture of both warmth and realism. It’s often imagined that the most seductive thing is to convey an air of adoration, to hint that the other strikes us as exceptionally beautiful or accomplished. But surprisingly, it is deeply unsettling to be adored, because everyone, in their hearts, knows very well that they don’t deserve much acclaim, are frequently disappointing and sometimes, simply quite lamentable. So good seduction involves suggesting that one both likes the other person a lot – and yet can see their frailty quite clearly and can live with it forgivingly.
Self-knowledge and perceptive generosity are the two most seductive things in the world; because they are what make romantic life with another individual bearable.
So how do these two factors apply when it comes to agencies pitching for work with clients? Well, exactly the same things can go wrong as on many first dates.
Many agencies prepare for a pitch as if they're putting on a West End show, showboating with their star talent and dressing up past work in a dazzling showreel. They might outline how they are both deeply creative and independently minded whilst also being endlessly flexible and compliant. They might boast about how their offices are packed with an unusual combination of maverick thinkers and level headed project managers. That they work with an impressive roster of global clients - but are also agile and able to give the client their full attention.
Clients aren’t much better. They might tease with the promise of uninhibited creative freedom and enormous budgets and then retreat into an opaque process of internal decision making that goes on so long it results in agencies wondering if they’ve been quietly ghosted.
Both sides are putting on a facade that they imagine will be highly appealing. It isn’t.
Agencies would do much better to learn the lessons of the good seducer - not through overly earnest confessions of their ineptitude in various areas but through being more honest about where their real strengths lie, and in which areas, perhaps, they may not be quite so well placed to help the client.
They might equally show a fond but insightful appreciation of how long it might take the client to make a decision and a recognition of the complexities of juggling office politics or how nervous they might feel about risking a campaign that genuinely breaks new ground.
If agencies don’t take this kind of seductive route in the first place, it’s no wonder that when difficult conversations inevitably arise things begin to quickly unravel. The relationship has started out on an unrealistic basis and - as with many whirlwind romances and over the top honeymoons - it’s impossible to sustain.
If agencies can approach pitches in a way that follows the two rules of good seduction, they may just end up going on fewer dates and having more relationships that last just a little bit longer.
Ewen Haldane is business director and Henry Playfoot is associate consultant at The School of Life.