Here’s how brands should behave during the pitch process: Don’t expect work for free is no. 1

In an environment where the role of marketing is under increasing stress and scrutiny, behaving with principles and integrity is more vital than ever – writes Richard Bleasdale of The Observatory International

The recent criticism from the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As), slamming marketers for demanding agencies sign over, for free, all rights to work they created responding to pitch briefs is worrying.

Bleasdale thinks marketers need to change their game during pitches

It raises further questions about the classic pitch process that prevails throughout the industry, and the ethics and etiquette of marketers during this process.

The central point being, should marketers expect anything for free in a pitch process? And really the simple answer should always be an uncategorical ‘no’.

Both sides of the church should agree on this stance – the agencies and the marketers alike. As in all cases in business, you generally get what you pay for one way or another. If you expect something for free, it generally will not be the best it can be.

So with that in mind, marketers presumably want the best. And we should acknowledge that pitching is the way that they will get that desired outcome. So here are five simple etiquette steps for marketers to employ:

Be clear about what you are buying and are willing to pay for

For the main part, what you are really buying is talent, inspiration, teamwork, expertise, insight, passion, commitment and intellectual property. Generally, these are focused around a communication need or discipline and/or a geography or territory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that these things don’t come for free. If you don’t want to pay for them, don’t expect to get them.

Take control and lead the pitch process

No matter what corporate policy is, what the role of purchasing/procurement amounts to or the compliance demands – it is the key responsibility of the marketer to lead the pitch process.

If a marketer, truly wants to get the best from a pitch process, they must lead its design and management. And critically, its decision-making.

Marketers will be held responsible for the performance of selected agencies and the marketing the resultant communications produced. Marketers, therefore, must lead the process which results in an agency being selected.

Bring real business challenges to the table

For both marketers and the agencies involved, the more like real-life a pitch process is, the more likely you are to make the best decisions at the end of it.

So find as many ways as possible to really engage with the agencies and their people in the process.

Bring real business and marketing challenges to the table. Be honest about your weakness and concerns. Make sure there is good two-way feedback right throughout the process.

Make the process fair and transparent so that agencies feel valued

You are investing significant time and resources. The agencies are doing the same. Both parties can learn a huge amount through a pitching process that is well-thought through and managed.

And generally, with only one winner on the agency side, ensuring the unsuccessful agencies feel the process is fair and transparent – and that they gain from being involved – will always be good for the brand and its marketers.

Spend a dollar to save a fortune

If you don’t have the time, resources, experience or patience to do all of the above, it will cost you a fraction of your marketing budget to appoint a specialist to help you.

And in all of our experience, the benefits marketers, their team – and the agencies – gain from bringing in a specialist are many, many times that of the cost.

The same is true for paying pitch fees to participating agencies. Paying a reasonable sum for their investment of effort, time, expertise and resources in your marketing and business challenges, is really only common sense.

In an environment where the role of marketing is under increasing stress and scrutiny, behaving with principles and integrity is more vital than ever. And as the advertising godfather Bill Bernbach rightly said: “A principle is not a principle, until it costs you money.”

Richard Bleasdale is Asia-Pacific managing partner at pitch consultancy firm The Observatory International


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