Is pledging enough? Agency leaders weigh in on the Pitch Positive Pledge

By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

M&C Saatchi

|

pitching article

May 23, 2022 | 6 min read

The IPA and Isba recently announced 70 founding signatories to the Pitch Positive Pledge, aiming to make pitching more intentional, accountable and responsible; and acknowledging wastefulness and harm to participants’ wellbeing. But is pledging to do better enough, or just papering over the cracks of a broken system? We asked seven experts from The Drum Network – some signatories, some not – to weigh in.

Wendy Dixon, chief growth officer, M&C Saatchi Group

As much as I would like to grow our business significantly without heavy pitches, it just isn’t realistic – yet. We’ve signed up to the Pledge because we believe the more the industry can speak with one voice, the more momentum and change can be achieved.

There’s a long legacy of pitching in our industry, but much of that approach is outdated. It boggles the mind that we invest so much value to find ‘the answer’ to pitch briefs – by ourselves, without compensation and aware that (whoever is chosen) the work will start from scratch all over again.

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Clients benefit more and get results faster when solutions are built in collaboration. So why not start sooner? There are faster, more innovative ways to find a team to partner with. Our starting point with new business is always, ‘how can we give clients confidence in our experience, find chemistry with our people and sign up to a growth program that gets the business from A to B?’

Start smarter, get results faster. As an industry we must back ourselves and have these conversations with intermediaries and clients.

Sam Fenton-Elstone, chief executive officer and co-founder, Anything is Possible

I fainted in my first pitch. And we went on to win it. (I promise it wasn’t a stunt.)

That day shows the highs and lows of pitching. The intensity; the adrenaline; the ride-or-die sensation in the room. I’ve seen it produce outstanding work. That feeling, and the results you often get, are addictive for individuals and organizations.

Like any addiction, it’s ultimately destructive. I’ve felt that damage first-hand.

Agencies may love pitching, but we can be our own worst enemy. We use the pitch to force a binary decision, to push ourselves over the line, ahead of competitors. The pressure that creates (internally and for clients) doesn’t just burn people out; it creates distortions in work.

The secret of successful work with an agency is true partnership. Both sides enhancing each other’s capabilities and outcomes. Discovering how two (or more) organizations fit together to do transformative work – that’s a conversation, not a performance.

That’s why I signed the Pledge.

Mikey Emery, commercial director, Impression

The Pledge is a fantastic initiative and one I am sure all agencies will welcome with open arms. But agency owners and new business professionals must take steps to take more control themselves and not only rely on brands to become more considered.

We’ve adopted a ‘pitch less, win more’ mentality. The volume of new accounts is not the key to growth; winning and retaining the ‘right’ accounts is. This means going above and beyond on fewer pitches for brands with the aspiration (and opportunity) to grow, where we know we can deliver.

Adding in a few robust qualification questions during the initial briefing helps to spot those seeking a true partnership. It’s then up to the agency how much risk they’re willing to take on.

John Barham, managing director, Roast, part of Tipi group

Huge pressure is placed on new business efforts, and this can be most keenly felt by the team delivering pitches. Timelines are often tight and the need to impress clients sees workload management suffer. Covid-19 has exacerbated this.

Tipi Group is immensely pleased to have committed to the Pledge. Our hope is a more resource-sensitive and honest pitching landscape, tackled by agencies and brands alike.

For agencies, this requires bravery to rigorously review opportunities, committing wider resource only when a clear and suitable brief is received. And to clearly say ‘no’ otherwise.

For brands, it requires an acquiescence to, and acknowledgement of, the scale of work that goes into supplier selection processes – be this including an estimate or guide on hours expected for a response; leaning more toward demonstration of capabilities from agencies via case studies or references; or adherence to an industry-standardized briefing format.

Mike Mikho, chief marketing officer, Laundry Service, part of Wasserman

Getting everyone (agency and client) on the same page about reasonable, respectful expectations in the pitch process is a great ambition. But the solution for a broken pitch process is for agencies to be thoughtful about where they spend their energy. If a brand is asking for an agency to commit time and resources in a pitch, agencies should expect certain resources in return, including time with the client, budget guidance and a clear brief. We’re selective with what pitches we take on: if we’re going to compete, we’re going to give it our all. And we can only ask our team members for so much.

A pledge can create solidarity and discussion around policy and shared values, but it’s the development of relationship-specific boundaries that sets the tone for fairness. Any public declaration without a supported, behavioral action plan supported by leadership will miss the mark.

Luke D’Arcy, EMEA growth officer, Momentum Worldwide

Pitching can bring out the best and worst of the industry. An area to address is real buying intent. We must avoid the dreaded formality of the often-loved ‘client triple bid’ for process’s sake. Pitching must provide a realistic chance to secure business and not be a mere procurement or costing formality.

Another issue is the reality of a budget. Far too many pitches are initiated without clear budget, causing stress and frustration.

If the Pledge can be followed through by agencies and clients, it will deliver a healthier, more positive and more transparent agency-client landscape.

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