The pitch is broken


Three of Dialogue’s directors are attending a course this year in DCU run by Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Management Institute. It is entitled Management 4 Growth (M4G) – it is set up for clients of Enterprise Ireland who are expanding their operations internationally and domestically. The vast majority of the other companies on the course are from different industries than ours, there is lots of discussion and you learn from the other participants in the course. So what does this have to do with pitching for new business you ask?

Well… when we explained to the group how our industry pitches for business, the whole class looked at us as if we were clinically insane.

Jaws opened and stunned faces starred back at us. They could not comprehend why we would impart all our experience and well thought-out thinking, putting so much time and effort and spending so much money on third parties only to be in with a one-in-five chance of winning a piece of business.

When I explained that the winning agency’s work invariably does not see the light of day* the stunned silence turned into ‘are-you-absolutely-nuts’ type of nervous laughter.

I have since had this same conversation with some other business acquaintances in different industries (including some senior client executives) and they all share my fellow M4G classmates’ opinion – we’re nuts and the agency pitch model is unsustainable.

As an industry we are killing ourselves slowly by accepting the terms that have become the norm. I have talked to number of my competing MDs at length about this issue and we are all certainly in agreement about one thing: if we continue to do what we’ve always done and expect different results, not only are we all insane, but we certainly will not all make it to the end of this recession.

The model is broken. It needs to be fixed.

IAPI (under the leadership of the brilliant Tania Bannoti) are championing change in this area. They have produced a Good Pitch Guide that outlines how a pitch should be run. Among its guidelines are requests that clients ask a maximum of four agencies (including the incumbent) to pitch for their business, that they give agencies sufficient time to turn around a pitch request and that they always ask the agencies to present face-to-face and not just in a document.

At the recent IAPI AGM, David Wethey (a UK & Ireland pitch doctor for 25 years) went further to suggest that clients should not request creative; that chemistry meetings, strategic fit, past case studies and a creative strategy should suffice. He believes so strongly about this that he now does not do business with clients that want full blown creative pitches. He is putting his money where his mouth is.

The IDMA last year launched an agency-friendly pitch initiative: It gives agencies the opportunity to showcase themselves so clients can get a feel for the type of agency they are, the type of clients they work with and the type of work they do. We have got enquiries from this but it still hasn’t stopped us becoming one of multiple agencies on pitch lists.

So what is the answer? I believe in the David Wethey model and I know most other agencies do too.

However there are two potential problems with this model:

1. Getting all agencies to agree to this and to stand strong together. I am happy to raise my hand and commit to adhering to this model. However, we can be an awful flaky bunch. There are always going to be the hungry / desperate agencies who will happily knife others in the back to succeed.

2. Some clients need to see before they believe. Will they be willing to take the leap of faith? I will be very interested in the takeout from David Wethey’s client-focused session on Wednesday next. The managing agency/client relationships session is a follow on from the agency-focused session at the IAPI AGM. He will be delivering the same message but this time to a different audience: clients…

Watch this space.

* At a recent IAPI event David Wethey (a UK & Ireland pitch doctor for 25 years) shared a frightening statistic – that more than 90% of winning work presented in a pitch does not ever go into campaign.

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