Pitching? There has to be a better way to find an agency

In each print edition of The Drum, we give one person from the media and creative worlds the chance to have The Last Word in the magazine by sounding off about a subject that matters to them. It could be a rant or a eulogy, the topic is entirely of their choosing. Here we publish The Last Words from our most recent editions.

Paul Kitcatt

My agency is good at pitching. It is, however, the most ridiculous, wasteful, time-consuming and fatuous way for clients to find an agency, and vice versa.

It costs a large amount of money, and wastes weeks of time. All of which agencies must recoup from their only source of revenue – their clients.

If we bought a car in a similar fashion, we’d ask six manufacturers to show ideas for a range of cars they’ve never made, to do things no car has ever been asked to do, from materials that don’t exist, designed like no car known to man, at a cost no car could ever be made for. Not only to show the ideas, but to make the cars, at least as prototypes. Then we’d choose one manufacturer, but buy none of the cars they’ve shown, but something completely different. And the rest would get thrown away.

How often does the work created for the pitch actually run? Rarely. The client, on appointing you, will explain why they couldn’t possibly approve the ideas you’ve shown – too brave by far – and then reveal their most pressing need. It won’t be much like the one in the pitch brief.

So agencies spend thousands of pounds answering made-up or heavily doctored questions. The losing agencies waste their money. The winner does too, since none of the work can be used, but they can try to make it back over the next few years.

At least the client meets a team of people they want to work with. Except they don’t. Though the client often asks to see the people who will work on the business, no agency ever fields more than one or two of them.

Why? Because all agencies know the client wants a good show at the pitch. And the people who are best at pitching are those who’ve done it most often, and they can’t possibly work on all the business they pitch for.

It doesn’t matter that much, however, since the client team is also largely composed of senior people you will rarely see again.

So what pitching amounts to is this. A number of agencies spend a vast amount of money, and one wins. The winning team meets the client team at the pitch, and thereafter twice a year at The Ivy. The winning work, and the losing work, goes to landfill. A group of minions who have never set eyes on each other then meet and work out how to do whatever it is that actually needs doing.

Is there a better way? As a client, you could start by looking at agencies’ work properly. Ask to meet the people who do the work, not for a formal presentation, but to talk to them. Ask to talk to the clients whose work you are shown.

It will take forever if you see 16 agencies, as can happen now. So don’t. Shorten the shortlist. All agencies have websites. Go window shopping first, and save time later. And don’t ask your incumbent agency to re-pitch.

It’s cruel. You’ve called a review because you don’t love them anymore. Take them out and shoot them, right away. How often does an incumbent win a re-pitch? Six per cent of the time. They always try, because agencies are full of relentless optimists. But 94 per cent of the time it ends in tears.

See four agencies, and choose two for a live brief. The one who does the best job gets the business. You run the work.

Agencies will still get the thrill of the chase, but with less wastage and better odds. Clients see the agency in action. The people who will work together get to try it out. And the first campaign goes out of the door within days.

Paul Kitcatt is the chief creative officer and co-founder of Kitcatt Nohr. This piece first appeared as The Last Word in the 19 March edition of The Drum.

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