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Addicted to pitching? Time to get clean

By Nick Ellis, Founder



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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July 12, 2019 | 5 min read

I’ll go first.

Auditorium pitching

Should we try to wean ourselves off the pitching process? / Omar Flores

My name is Nick and I’m addicted to creative pitching.

It used to be fine. The long nights, the intense, compacted, elongated, frenzied days. I could deal with them. I could cope with the stress because I was building the agency. The payoff was more clients, more work, more opportunity. More money.

You need money to feed the machine. You need money in the bank to help you sleep at night. Invest to grow. Grow to succeed. Keep momentum. Keep relevant.

And when you’re winning creative pitches, financial security is the panacea to your crumbling mental health. It’s the answer you give to the mirror when the cracks are starting to show. Winning is a drug in itself. It clouds the need to make changes to your agency culture, your business strategy, your client relationships, your personal relationships. Winning pitches is all good. Until you don’t win.

Until you don’t win again.

And then you’re fucked.

Because nothing hurts more than rejection. Crushing uncertainty. Loss of confidence. Anxiety. Fear. It’s all in there. You can’t even kid yourself that it’s just business. Only about the work. It’s never just the strategy or the creative. It’s you. It’s personal.

They liked them more than they liked you.

But I’ve come to realise that my addiction to pitching might well break me and my agency unless I change. Unless we all change - including clients.

Fuck the magic bullet.

Client calls a creative pitch. They want to see the answer. They want the magic bullet. They want to buy with their eyes. The whole point of a creative pitch is to have the best creative. It really is that simple; let’s not kid ourselves that there’s a whole lot more going on.

The best creative, by the nicest, smartest people, at the right price.

That’s what you’re shooting for, the holy trinity of pitch success. Good people crafting great strategy which shapes brilliant – winning – creative. All delivered by a team you’d like to go for a drink with, who you want to think of as friends.

When we pitch we’re performing. We’re putting our best self forward. We’re on stage. I like the rush of it, we all do, because our industry is populated by high functioning addicts.

But the magic bullet doesn’t really exist. Effective work takes time, vision and most importantly collaboration. An intimate relationship between agency and client, where each party is willing to share ideas with honesty and without caution. Where trust is built through the trials and errors of strategic vision, market and human insight and design development. Client and agency together, trusting in the beautifully flawed creative process.

A pitch, in stark contrast, is all about working in isolation, crossing fingers that you deliver something that excites the audience. In the unnatural, alien environment of a creative competition, where you’ve gone all in; where your money is on the table – on screen and foamex.

Cold turkey. Cold comfort.

Now here’s the rub. If you refuse to pitch - if you choose to get clean - you’re closing doors on potential work, you’re shutting down opportunity. Like any addict, you think you can cut down, choose when, where and with whom you take a hit. Rationalising your decision based on opportunity, based on what’s possible and, to a lesser extent, what’s probable.

I can’t promise that I’ll never do another creative pitch. I won’t lie to you like I’ll lie to myself. Lofty principles and ideals go out the window when you need to secure revenue. When people are counting on the business to pay their mortgages, to give them a living. To have stuck to your guns is cold comfort if you can’t make the rent.

So I’ll end with a request to anyone thinking of calling a creative pitch. What are you really hoping to find? What do you really want from the process? Because if you call a creative pitch, you’re perpetuating a problem that undermines the entire industry. You’re using a beauty parade to find a champion when you’re looking for a partner. It’s not Tinder. And you might swipe away ‘the one’.

My names Nick and I’m addicted to pitching. So don’t ask me to.

Well, ok, just this once.


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