The pitch process has become more convoluted and disjointed than complex says Julie Cohen, founder and chief executive officer, Across the Pond.
Ahead of her appearance at Pitch Perfect, Cohen talks to The Drum about patronising pitches, how it’s unarguably bad business to work for free and why Across the Pond stopped pitching altogether.
What was the hardest pitch you have ever done?
We had devoted a pitch team of five to work for three weeks straight with habitual long days and nights on a YouTube series with influencers for a top global beauty brand. Our recent work and experience at that time left us feeling especially well suited for the project - a really good match.
We arrived for the presentation to wait 25 minutes for their new creative director to show up. He neither said hello nor looked us in the eye. He then spent the whole 30 minute presentation flirting and laughing aloud with his colleague over something on his iPad. He asked a couple of patronising questions, the most memorable of which was to his own colleagues: “why are we doing this anyway?” He then got up and left the room.
Was it successful?
What did you learn from it?
We don’t have to do this. We were pitch fodder - we were never really going to win. We have won pitches before but we learned here that the chances of winning in situations like this are slim to none. Looking back over almost a decade we have never ever won a pitch where we didn’t already know we had the inside advantage at the outset. We’ve won phantom pitches this way and we’ve won the promise of a bright future collaboration ‘sometime after something’ between a leprechaun and a flying pig... but never an actual paying project. It’s futile and... we don’t have to do this anymore.
Has the pitch process become far too complicated?
It’s more convoluted and disjointed than complex. We have somehow cultivated, permitted and perpetuated this rather unprofessional and certainly undignified system where clients command and agencies acquiesce. Good agencies are experts in their field and know exactly what conditions they need to create the best work. Working tirelessly under a contrived set of circumstances to perform before a panel of judges can’t possibly be an accurate indication of how a brand and agency will do working together thereafter. All of this is in addition to the simple fact that it’s unarguably bad business to work for free. We can’t expect others to value and respect us if we don’t uphold these truths ourselves.
Is it time to ditch ‘request for information’ documents (RFIs) or even the ‘chemistry meetings?
It would be ideal to ditch the RFP, yes. Some agencies might truly like this model (though I can’t name one) but if they are able to uphold it successfully then I dare say there are enough clients and work out there for us to pursue relationships that fit our respective belief systems. Clients are slowly opening their eyes to the downfalls of pitching (HUGE time waster client side for a start) so my hope is that we continue along this path and use better, more human methods to find ourselves great client agency relationships. Chemistry meetings can be great - though I’d ask who’s in whose charge? When you walk into your doctor’s office they command the consultation, not vice versa. Good agencies are experts in their field and know exactly what information and conditions they need to create the best work. Asking great questions of our potential clients and seriously considering their business problems as experts instead of as desperate, hungry and hopeful worker bees is the only way for these to be constructive.
Is taking part in a pitch always a logically financially viable process these days?
Working for free is never ever logical and even less often financially viable.
As an industry are we guilty of pitching ourselves to the ground?
While it’s cathartic to commiserate and feel victim of an archaic but engrained institution, we are not powerless. It is not “unfair” - nobody holds a gun to our heads to play at this game. There are other ways to do business. Our agency stopped pitching nine months ago and not only have we continued to forge even more fruitful relationships with new clients, but our overall revenue has increased by 25% and team morale at least another hundred.
Cohen will attend Pitch Perfect on 13 September for a panel on business development, discussing how you can create a culture where you make everyone feel responsible for new business and transcend that positive attitude, to ensure it becomes an infectious trait across the whole entire agency.
This event focuses on helping agencies win new business. Check out the website for more information and to purchase tickets.
Sponsors of the event are BD100 and Digitas.