Has coronavirus isolation proven it is time to ditch the pitch?

With business across the globe stagnating due to the coronavirus, and most of the UK confined to their homes with only technology to see them through, what impact has this had on the agency pitching process? This was one of many pertinent questions posed to marketers at The Drum’s ongoing Digital Transformation festival.

“What’s the difference between communicating digitally or in person?” asked Julie Cohen, chief exec of Across the Pond, a creative agency specialising in film that gave up the pitching process a few years back.

With human contact now a no-go, she questioned what is the real value of being in person? “The reason we stopped pitching in the first place is because it is more about relationships. We don’t believe that the pitching process – whether in-person or via hangout – is actually effective.”

In her opinion, while nothing replaces an in-person conversation, she doesn’t think it’s necessary to have an actual pitch process to pick apart different creative ideas or to present in person. “We haven't had any hardship dealing without that,” she claimed, “because we still have to talk to our clients about getting new work.”

For Bridey-Rae Lipscombe, managing director and founder at Cult LDN, having to work from home hasn’t had an impact, given the organisation has been working remotely for many years now.

“Tech has allowed us to approach the pitch in a different way,” she admitted. “As it means that our international teams can collaborate more seamlessly with our internal tools. But also we've seen our creative and strategy teams be able to curate networks of international external collaborators to inform our opinion more quickly."

She referred to a piece of work Cult LDN did for Burberry that the team turned around in 10 days:

“Within four days, we had 25 different experts working on that. So we benefit from a local and relevant school of thought that we can call upon. That has enabled us to think at all times, when we're looking at brief there are unlimited resources that we can tap out there because of the tools that we utilise.”

On whether there is a way to replicate chemistry if you’re going purely digital, Cohen said, “First we have to try.”

She detailed how as an industry, we’re moving into a time when we're all looking to socially distance:

“We’re going to want connection. Our team is moving to virtual chemistry things, sharing lunches – trying to make it as interactive as possible. I don't think you can ever fully replicate it, but we have a new normal, and we have a new way to connect. We need to try and it isn't something that unique to an agency/client relationship. Consumers are now expecting this a brand to try and make this normal.”

As the industry adapts to this ‘new normal’ and the lessons it will take forward from this time, Lipscombe argued that she doesn't believe it's good for clients or agencies to do pitching in the first place.

“All pitch process is friction, it's difficult and it wastes time. There's a laziness involved,” she stated.

“This is because you move a project forward by getting agencies to work their butts off for three weeks, who then come back and present something. Then you get all your peers together to try and pick the best one and nobody gets fired for picking the wrong one. So, I think that hopefully now we use that time to curate and work together, trust each other and invest in each other so that we can make great work much earlier and much better for it.”

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