Pitchdoctors: Agencies need to learn to say no to clients in race to the bottom

Richard Bleasdale


Darren Woolley


Two of the region’s leading pitch doctors have told a Mumbrella video hangout Australia and the wider region is in a race to the bottom on price and urged agencies to stand up to clients, while marketers need to be better at communicating the value they create.

Darren Woolley, managing director of Sydney-based TrinityP3, and Singapore-based regional managing partner of Roth Observatory International, Richard Bleasdale, told the online discussion that more industry attention was needed on the topic from agencies, clients and also industry associations.

“It’s a difficult issue and there are some marketers who are less sophisticated and are driven primarily by price and in a that situation we do see agencies competing with each other on price,” said Bleasdale.

“I think the driver for agencies has always been new business. I think the market is saturated from an agency perspective — there are far too many agencies for the amount of business around — and really these days anyone can be an agency. So the (total) volume of agencies is an issue.”

In recent times in Australia there have been a number of agencies who have chosen not to repitch for business including MediaCom on PacificBrands and ZenithOptimedia on Lion. 

Bleasdale said agencies needed to learn to say no to clients: “I fundamentally believe that agencies say yes far too many times when they should say no a lot more and stand up for what they believe in. And I fundamentally believe that the agency and industry associations have a much more important job to do to set some ground rules in the industry.”

TrinityP3’s Woolley agreed that it was an important issue for the industry.”Professional guidelines are important,” said Wooley, “But the interesting thing from a rates perspective is that agencies will be very quick not to lose the business because of price. They will have the short term view of winning the business hoping they will make up for it, because they are incredible optimists, down the track.

“The CEO (often) doesn’t see value — he sees cost. The tool of the CEO is procurement and the best thing a business can do in any environment is to minimise its cost base. That’s why procurement is often cast in the role of driving down the cost.

“We have marketers who are not conversive in the language of business and finance and are talking to the CFO but not in the way of the value that that budget creates.”

Wooley and Bleasdale also went head-to-head on issues such as pitch fees, pricing, how agencies can keep clients from looking elsewhere, and how Asia’s pitch scene differs from Australia’s.

Woolley is a scientist by background, who then became a copywriter, and later a creative director at JWT Australia. He founded marketing management consultancy TrinityP3 more than 14 years ago, and is increasingly doing business across the region.

Bleasdale, a former Asia Pacific CEO of Iris Worldwide and group MD of DDB Singapore, took the top Asia job at Roth Observatory International in November, when the company was formed from the merger of consultancies The Observatory and Roth Associates.


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