Change the Agency Pitch

The typical agency pitch has an air of complete predictability about it. All the agencies are provided with the same brief and asked to come back with creative strategy and communication.

We would like to believe that each agency approaches the problem differently. But most clients will tell you this – while creative approaches could differ, most strategies are depressingly similar. The choice of media, the segmentation of the target audience, the go to market strategies may look as if all agencies sat in the same room and decided to present the same thing to the client.

I remember being part of a pitch where 42 agencies vied for a tourism account. We were No. 35 or so on the list and as we unveiled the creative strategy after recapping the brief, there was a collective groan. One of the guys from the client’s side actually told us – “Ok, so French ancestry is our strong selling point, but have you even considered alternatives?” We struggled to find a response. The guy went on “We’ve sat through over 30 presentations during the past week and I am yet to find someone who challenged the fundamental assumption. Why is it that not a single agency has dared to question the status quo?”

It was a different matter that the campaign that finally evolved had no change of position – but the real point was that we did not even try. I suspect that the problem is that the same brief is given to all agencies – it’s a lot like asking a set of fashion designers to stitch something very different from exactly the same ream of material.

Maybe the brief should merely be a placeholder. The competing agencies should be asked to work campaigns with a completely different tone and voice. Sure, it won’t be an apples to apples comparison, but that’s the point. I really wonder if the current pitches are getting clients what they want. Maybe apples should be compared to pomegranates. Or peaches.

The truth is that in a pitch, the consumer is not in the picture at all. It is only the decision makers on the client’s side who are the focus. Agencies may not want to start off on the wrong foot by questioning a successful position in the market – especially if it has been working.

Risk taking needs trust on both sides. But serenading the client is not a situation in which agencies take risks. Sure, you hear stories about how a certain agency walked into the client’s boardroom and told them how they were completely wrong – and still managed to win the account. However, I have yet to see clients who take kindly to having their existing and past campaigns trashed. They have invested time, effort and money in getting those campaigns out – and no one likes to be told that they look like a bunch of amateurs.

So here’s a suggestion. Stay away from the straight and narrow. Allow wondering, because there is never one right answer with a creative solution. There are so many shades of expression that it helps to get hues, rather than the primary colours alone. And if the client does not want to be wrong, either about the agency or the campaign, expect the agencies to play it safe as well