Will adland ditch the pitch? Part 3: Is anyone going to actually do it?

A month ago, Mat Baxter asked the industry to join him in ditching the pitch. In this series, Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby takes that challenge to a range of media agency bosses. Part 3 sees those bosses answer Baxter's overarching question: Will you actually ditch the pitch?

Group M’s Mark Lollback  can’t see #ditchthepitch coming completely to fruition. “It’s unrealistic to do away with pitching altogether. It might make a good headline but it won’t solve the problem,” he says.

Mark Coad also doesn’t count himself as a “fully subscribed member of the ditch the pitch movement just yet”. But PHD’s CEO does think there’s something to Mat Baxter’s industry call to arms.

“It’s a heavy toll on our business, there’s no question about that, and often the amount of work that we’re asked to do is significant. It can often be out of kilter with the size of the prize,” Coad says.

“But, at the same time, clients are entitled, it’s incumbent upon them to find the best possible partner. For many of our clients, the media invoice is the single biggest invoice they sign off on a monthly basis. So, you know, they’ve got to get that right.”

Clockwise from top left: Fiona Johnston, Chris Walton, Toby Barbour, Willie Pang, Jack Byrne, Aimee Buchanan, Mark Coad, Mark Lollback

So if PHD won’t ditch the pitch, will other agencies? The resounding answer: No.

Medicom’s Willie Pang says that, for him, the goal isn’t to ditch the pitch but to “#lovethepitch”, drawing upon an “exaggerated” but “fun” analogy.

“Say I’m a client and I’m looking for a watch. I walk into what appears to be a high-end watch retailer. I know my budget is $3,000. My wife (the CFO) would actually prefer I spend $2,800 and I know I could, maybe, persuade her to let me spend $3,200, but I’ve always lusted over the $10,000 customised Cartier in the corner,” Pang begins.

“Now, here comes the sales person. But there is a catch. If you’re buying the $3,000 watch, the sales person negotiates a little bit, takes your card and boxes it up. It’s done and dusted in 10 minutes flat. If you’re buying the $10,000 watch, the salesman brings his in-house horologist, makes you a coffee, discusses customisation options, logs every requirement in the purpose-built website, and so on. You get my drift. It takes an hour to just get the order, it takes a week to confirm delivery and you receive the watch in three months. It’s a great watch and it’s worth it.

“Now, imagine this. After spending the extra hour, the client says to the sales person, ‘Thank you, but I’ve actually only got $3,200 to spend – which is really $2,800’. The client then gets up, walks next door into another retailer, spends 10 minutes and walks out with a watch within their budget.”

Pang says the point of this analogy is to shift the focus away from ditching the pitch and towards “a format that has the client putting their budget (as a range) on the table” first, one of the solutions Baxter offered up as a priority step to cleaning up the pitching process.

“Sometimes, I’ve observed that the buyer is banking on the fact that there is always someone desperate enough to give it away. Don’t be that guy,” Pang says.

Baxter called on other agencies not only to ditch the pitch, but to share their “horror stories” using the hashtag #ditchthepitch

Recently appointed Publicis Media CEO Toby Barbour, meanwhile, agrees that it’s a process problem, and one that needs to be “disrupted, to be digitised and automated”.

“The existing RFP process is analogue, time consuming and costly. It should be digitised onto a platform where clients can still apply a weighted index to ensure the information provided is customised to their needs,” he explains.

Independents Nunn Media and Hatched Media aren’t as adamant that ditching the pitch won’t work, given neither pitch a lot (Hatched says it has been involved in “almost zero” pitches in the past few years), but both were hesitant to unequivocally support Baxter’s sentiment.

“Saying ‘ditch the pitch’ is a very broad-ranging statement that is hard to simply agree with,” says Nunn MD Chris Walton.

“But let’s ask ourselves why it has come to this. I would suggest we are here because multinational media agencies have singularly failed to differentiate themselves from one another. They have failed to invest in developing their own IP. Clients therefore cannot tell the difference between them and cannot understand the value they bring to their businesses.

“Don’t expect the clients to change because they feel a bit sorry for one of their suppliers. Let’s get real about this.”

Pitch costs over time. (Click to enlarge)

And Hatched MD Jack Byrne claims it’s the “process rather than the pitch itself” which needs reform, since there’ll always be one agency willing to “drop their pants”.

“The current process itself is not only outdated, but designed almost wholly to put downward pressure on cost and rates,” he says.

“Notwithstanding the fact that pitches are great ways to extract creativity … the client still needs to get to know the personnel who will be working on their business, the ways of working and thinking they will obtain.”

For Coad, it’s about reinforcing the rules with clients, rather than quitting the game completely.

“I don’t think we’re going to stop pitching anytime soon. I don’t think the industry is going to change anytime soon,” he says.

“But there’s probably an equilibrium to be restored between what we need to put forward versus what the potential outcome is.”


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