Throughout the ages, times of adversity and flux have provided brilliant opportunities for change and advancement, for innovation and initiative … for betterment. Whether such turning points happened at a national level, personal, corporate or industry levels the dynamics were pretty much the same: necessity and pressure brought about invention and novelty. Today, our industry faces such a moment.
As I look back at over 23 years in the communication industry, working in a number of countries and across a diversity of categories, I have seen, and continue to see, many practices and behaviours that seem typical of our industry; they go unquestioned and unchallenged seemingly so inherent to what we do and necessary to our functioning just like the law of gravity, without which whatever is on earth will be flung and dispersed to the outer recesses of space.
So, it seems, the communication industry has such cosmic laws. Laws that do not get challenged; after all, how can one challenge, for example, the law of communication gravity? Without it communication cannot function as it would be flung to the remote recesses of marketing space?
I wish to ask a question and perhaps take a bit of a risk and challenge the marketing industry to re-examine one such practice. Why does the marketing community need agencies to pitch in order to demonstrate their competence before being awarded an assignment? Why?
The practice seems to me analogous to asking a candidate to actually perform the job without being employed, without being paid, without being hired and without commitment. It is like asking a doctor to perform a sample operation before being selected to perform one! It is like a contractor actually building the project, or a portion of it, without being selected, without being assigned, without being paid, and with no commitment! The list goes on, but I think the point is clear.
There is no need for communication agencies to be forced to pitch to prove their ability, worth and suitability to handle a future assignment no matter its size or duration. The reality is that there is no need for agencies to pitch and this forced measure is wasteful, harmful and is actually masking the marketing community’s lack of desire to do its homework and make decisions.
Pitches aim, at best, to reassure marketers that they can select the “right” or the “best” agency to handle their brand(s). So, what do marketers need to come to this decision? They need to cover three main areas:
- Conceptual and creative ability: Does an agency possess the strategic and conceptual abilities to understand my brand and its context? Will it be able to provide creative solutions? Can it execute properly?
- Project management: Can the agency handle projects satisfactorily? Can it provide the quality? Can it operate swiftly? Does it deliver when the chips are down?
- Value system and cultural fit: Will the client be able to work with such an agency? Will the people and the teams gel? Can they collaborate in times of crisis?
Truth be told, a pitch can barely answer the first question and doesn’t have a cat’s chance in hell to answer the remaining two. So, what does the marketing community do? It calls for pitches! I would have added a dime a dozen, but a dime is not part of this equation.
The reality is that marketing companies have gotten used to and insist on what seems to be their natural birth right to call agencies to pitch, to demand alternatives, to demand proof of purchase, to slave away for days, or hours as often is the case, so that clients can go shopping for free.
Obviously, we live in a world where the marketing community is taking the communication industry hostage, and the communication industry is also participating in this drama to ensure its livelihood while suffering from the Helsinki Syndrome.
How can we move forward?
I say, stop the pitching madness! The world will continue to function, and I guarantee you that companies will still be able to reach the same quality decisions that they have had the communication industry to finance through the pitching process. How? Simply by doing three things:
- Hold credentials presentations and use them to evaluate conceptual and creative, or other ability. Do not only look at the agency’s identity card and biography, look at the work, see case studies, interrogate;
- Conduct a background check. Talk to current, and previous, clients to learn about all you wish to learn about;
- Share the risk. This is a marriage, not an affair. For it to work both will have to work hard at it, otherwise sooner or later the cracks will show.
We live in challenging times and we have choices to make. We can either continue as we currently work and this will impoverish our industry to the detriment of all, or we can heed this call and model the way for the rest of the world by abolishing this arcane practice in favour of a new one, a smarter one and a more efficient one, and in so doing build value.
Yes, that is the way things have, seemingly, always been in our industry, though this is not the way things need to continue being. After all, building values requires men and women capable of dreaming, seeing and doing. Who will we be?