Why winning new business is such a pitch

Mumbrella's Abigail Dawson argues that the advertising industry's pitch culture is devaluing agencies, brands and the work they create.

Imagine that four local cafes were each offering free sandwiches. Given the choice, what would you do? You’d probably take one sandwich from each cafe, just to find out which one was the best.

But this free lunch scenario wouldn’t be without its problems. Firstly, I don’t think cafes would appreciate the increased number of sandwiches they would have to make.

They would probably find it difficult to maintain the quality and quantity of the free sandwiches, compared to the other items on their menu.

And thirdly, I doubt the staff would enjoy making sandwiches all day, only to have them eaten for free, just so people could decide which they would prefer.

Now let’s take this analogy and think about a pitch. If you can’t walk into a cafe, take a free sandwich and walk out, why do marketers ask agencies to offer just that?

In short, it’s because they can.

Marketers know they can ask agencies to work tireless hours at any time of the day to win a piece of their business. History has proven they will.

The status quo is highly beneficial for brands. They get to taste all of the sandwiches, see which flavour is best, and only then commit to buying one sandwich for the next three years. But what about the losers?

Unless you are an agency with a highly successful hit rate – there certainly are a few of these, but in reality they are few and far between – you are wasting a vast amount of time, money and resources for nothing.

Marketers know they can test the waters, see what is best for them, and play the field to find the perfect fit. But what they’re not considering is the long term effect on the advertising and agency economy.

The vicious pitch cycle is devaluing the agency market. Maybe marketers don’t care because they think it doesn’t affect them or their business. But in reality, it does – albeit indirectly.

It’s created a race to the bottom. Who can do it the cheapest? Who can do it the fastest?

The pitch cycle mentality, shared by 99% of marketers, inevitably lowers the quality of the work agencies produce, as they start to spread themselves too thin.

If you’re starting to get sick of the sandwich analogy, let’s look at it another way. Imagine draftsmen weren’t paid for setting out the structure of a building. Would you have a safe and functional building? I wouldn’t want to put it to the test.

So why don’t marketers and brands pay agencies to begin setting up the foundations of their brand building?

In an ideal world, agencies would simply not pitch. Instead, they’d invite businesses to come and watch them work, allow them to assess the content they have produced for other clients and hold one on one meetings.

But unfortunately, since the culture isn’t showing any signs of changing, agencies don’t have much of a choice.

For most agencies, pitching means throwing existing client work at account managers and directors, while senior staff members pull every trick out of the hat to win.

If agencies were paid fairly for their time, there would be a more rigorous approach to pitching, with a more considered agency review system.

Whatever happened to brand and agency loyalty, anyway?

Abigail Dawson is Mumbrella’s advertising and comms reporter.


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