Has the pitch process become self-destructive and obsolete?

By following an antiquated pitch process, agencies of all shapes and sizes are setting themselves up for a price-driven race to the bottom – argues brand consultant Jörg Dietzel

If you read your online news, you might be excused for thinking the brave new world is already upon us – with digital channels outperforming traditional ones, artificial intelligence moving driverless cars and robots about to replace your job sometime soon.

It’s just that in branding and advertising, this change has gone unnoticed. And the way we work, the way we handle clients and present to them has remained unchanged since the era of Mad Men.

Now that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, if it’s working. But is isn’t, and never has. Recent reports of similarities between ideas used in a pitch and the following campaign (by another agency) speak to that.

So last week, I was in a client briefing session for a project, together with a handful of other branding and advertising agencies. The client explained what the brand stood for, where they were coming from and their expectations for the branding project pitch.

Since they were not too sure about their current perception, research would be necessary. And yes, the budget would be sufficient but no, they could not give a number.

“Excuse me,” I piped up in the question and answer session: “But how will you be evaluating the proposals? Because if research is needed, obviously that will only be done after the successful pitch.

“And every re-positioning of the brand, new visual identity, touchpoint behaviour – they would all be based, to a large extent, on the research findings. So what every agency here would submit in the proposal would be a structure, timeline and costing but no actual branding work.”

The client agreed and went on to talk about how detailed the project structure would be, but the truth is: It will be very similar, if not the same, between the competing agencies. The differences will be manifest in alternative research methodologies and overall costs. And since there is not much else to go by, price is probably going to play a big role in the brand’s decision.

Which won’t give them the best and most thorough re-positioning. The solution? Research could be conducted centrally by the client and a research agency, and be made part of the brief. Then, branding agencies could draw their own, different conclusions from the findings and give the client more meaningful brand positions to choose from.

Maybe without a visualisation and translation into touch-points, so that branding agencies don’t fall into the advertising agency presentation trap. Because ad agencies have the opposite dilemma – since forever, they haven’t been showing too little, but too much.

Basically the whole campaign, with target insights, ideas, media recommendation and a translation of the creative into pretty much every channel (just in case). This is costing the agency a load of money, and of all shops invited, only one will walk away with the account while all others will have to absorb their cost (since most clients still don’t pay pitch fees) and – worst case – see their ideas online later as part of someone else’s campaign.

Of course, clients would have to, need to, see the campaign idea to decide between agencies. Although maybe just the idea without application to every possible advertising surface, and for a just fee?Jörg Dietzel has worked across Europe and Asia, in agencies and on the client side, most recently as global head of creative at Audi. He runs his own brand consultancy in Singapore and teaches branding and advertising at SMU


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