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Are clients taking agencies for a ride in pitches?

There is a pitch on in Singapore at the moment that is making the agencies trying to win it rather hot under the collar.

The sticking point is this. After making the shortlist, the lucky few were given three days to prepare for the presentation to the client. Strategy, creative. Not far off an entire campaign.

This client is one of the most prestigious in Singapore. So you might expect agencies to bend over backwards, particularly in uncertain times. But three days

One agency described the client as “arrogant” for expecting so much so quickly, even though they are a brand they would kill to have on their client list, and wondered if is was really worth scrambling for. The spend quota for the project is S$500,000 a year.

If clients really understood the effect that a pitch has on an agency, would they ask so much of us, an agency boss told me. It’s not just the expense of scrambling resources and putting other stuff on hold for a relatively small account. But the all nighters. The stress. The red bull and takeaway pizza. The time spent away from families. Perhaps they’d read about the launch of “the world’s fastest agency” in the US, which claims to be able to crack a brief in 24 hours and Tweet the solution for $999.

Tough deadlines are not helpful for clients either, even if for a medium-sized project like the one being pitched in Singapore. “Giving agencies short periods to develop creative work will test their ability to think quickly, but not the quality of their thinking,” says Darren Woolley, a pitch doctor who runs consultancy TrinityP3, which has offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia.

“Short timelines usually only produce the most obvious and prosaic ideas and are not a reflection of an agency’s creativity,” he says. “There should not be an expectation of using the creative work generated in the pitch, as it is created in isolation with little input from the organisation,” he adds.

To save you the suspense, the client in question is the Singapore Tourism Board, which is pitching its MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) business. A result is expected in a week or so.

Here’s the timeline from the pitch document, which was shared with Mumbrella last week.

Pitch document

Pic credit: STB's MICE website

Singapore – Asia’s business hub. Pic credit: STB

In STB’s defence MICE, which according to its website has a mission to “champion business travel and business events”, is not the biggest part of what the government body does. By far the bigger account is its national brand work, which saw BBH swapped for JWT after one of Singapore’s biggest marketing reviews of the year a few weeks ago. So you might expect a short deadline for a project rather than a retained account. The winner will be producing advertorials, videos and print ads for STB – not big budget brand campaigns.

When we put the concerns of agencies to STB, they told Mumbrella:

To clarify, the requirement specifications of the tender state upfront that shortlisted agencies would have to prepare for a “simple case analysis of materials provided by the Board at least 3 days” before the presentation.

In other words, agencies knew what they were in for. But still, is this timeframe reasonable when the prize is so small, even for a client everyone wants to work for?

The STB pitch scenario is not unusual in Singapore, and is decreasingly rare elsewhere in Asia, and it is not exclusive to government clients. It is, says one local agency boss, symptomatic of one of Asia’s most “intense” ad markets. According to pitch consultancy R3, which ran the STB brand pitch (but not the MICE pitch), the number of pitches in Singapore doubled in 2012 and the value of new business up for grabs jumped by 75 per cent.

Singapore is arguably now Asia’s most influential ad hub, and yet agencies are having to deal with a reality where speed seems to have as much value as creativity.

Robin Hicks

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