‘Clients treating agencies like prostitutes’

Kestrel Lee and Calvin Soh

Kestrel Lee (centre) and Calvin Soh (left)

Clients are treating agencies “like prostitutes” in pitches by using their ideas without paying them, a senior creative said at an conference yesterday.

Kestrel Lee, Asia Pacific executive creative director of Zeno Group, told delegates at the Worldwide Partners Asia Pacific meeting in Hanoi that agencies should “walk away” from pitches, and stop giving away their intellectual property.

“If you suspect that a client is unscrupulous, you should walk away – otherwise you’re asking to be screwed,” he said.

“Most clients don’t care about which agency brand is pitching, since ad people move from agency to agency all the time – which is partly why they treat agencies like prostitutes.”

Lee said that his agency rarely pitches. He talks at conferences and creates good work, so that “clients come to me,” he said.

“My job is to chase fame and business will come organically. There are so many agencies looking for big kills who spend an enormous amount on pitching and don’t get anything out of it.”

“I’d rather go to a challenger brand, who’s prepared to tie my strategy to their business performance,” he said.

Calvin Soh, the former chief creative officer and vice chairman of Publicis Asia Pacific, said that there needs to be an industry-wide push to change the pitch process.

Soh was part of a Publicis team that pitched for the Singapore Airlines account in 2008. The pitch lasted nine months and cost the agency $250,000. The account went to TBWA.

“How much money are we prepared to waste to land a client?” he said. “Do doctors allow patients to have free consultations, then the patient goes off to the pharmacy to get the drugs they need?”

A pitch fee has been proposed in Singapore, but while large agencies have agreed to pay it, small agencies have said they will pitch for free, scuppering the pitch fee model, Calvin Soh said.

“We need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and work out a better way define a value for our ideas,” Soh said.


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