What the m&k Werbewoche.ch community has to say about pitching

Are pitches still up to date? In April 2022, m&k Werbewoche.ch launched an industry survey on the topic of pitching. The results show that the topic is polarizing - yet a clear trend in opinion is emerging.

Thema PitchenWhen clients advertise mandates - or agencies apply for them - both sides are confronted with a phenomenon that is special to the marketing and communications industry: Jobs have always been competed for in the form of "pitches". This is a procedure that ties up a lot of resources on both the client and the contractor side.

m&k advertisingweek.ch wanted to know from their community what they thought about pitching. For the current m&k-In addition, Anna Kohler conducted an interview with pitch consultant Roland Sutter in the print edition and gave the LSA and SWA associations a chance to speak in statements. (click here for the Subscription+ article).

From the survey results in the community, it appears that they have a strong opinion on pitching - many would like to see a change in thinking that should take place on both the client:side and the agency side.

Most of the respondents were from the agency or contractor side, which can be explained by the fact that this side is more affected by the topic. Accordingly, there was a particularly large amount of feedback that pitching is no longer in keeping with the times. On the other hand, only just under 10 percent of respondents said that they found current pitching practices okay.

(Image: Werbewoche.ch)

A good 70 percent of respondents consider a trial assignment or an agency evaluation after a "chemistry meeting" to be goal-oriented alternatives to pitching. On the other hand, almost no one considers the awarding of contracts from an "agency roster" to be goal-oriented. Relying on "word of mouth," i.e., the reputation of the agency, for awarding the contract is considered a good idea by almost one in three respondents.

Almost 40 percent of respondents also think that both parties should communicate openly with each other in order to improve and thus also prolong the business relationship. This could mean that a client does not change agencies too quickly.

In the following, we have listed some statements anonymously. Since many answers overlap in terms of content, we have limited ourselves to a few that are particularly meaningful.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

In my opinion, pitches have never been up to date. I used to be a client myself and never pitched. Since I've been self-employed with my own marketing network, I've never participated in a pitch because I still find it nonsensical and it causes a lot of effort on both sides.

I think you have to be able to find out in an evaluation and open discussions whether it fits or not. As a client, I have already fallen flat on my face with recommendations. That's why, in my view, the best thing to do is to discuss and evaluate honestly with your cards on the table.

Client:inside side, finds the current pitch process okay

As a client, we pay a pitch fee, which does not cover all costs, but does make a contribution. In other industries, pitches or requests for proposals that involve upfront payment are also the norm. What is often forgotten: Most products are produced first, with no guarantee that customers will buy them or that the necessary volume will be sold to make a profit. No one guarantees success for a new product. For established companies, this is part of the business risk; for startups, this is the biggest hurdle to even going to market.

That's why, in my opinion, a lost pitch is part of an agency's business risk. An agency is about the most suitable idea/creation for a specific task. Which cannot be selected without visual representation. A good reputation or the sympathy of the agency does not guarantee this. If I as a client knew exactly what I wanted to implement, I could also bypass the route via the agency and work directly with photographers/graphic designers/filmmakers.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

The agencies themselves are to blame for today's plight. In any other industry, a client would be flipped the bird in response to a pitch request. A wonderful anecdote about this:

Why we got ourselves into this nonsense in advertising is still a mystery to me. Why industry associations don't try to finally put an end to this unfortunate practice is even more of a mystery to me.

Agency side, thinks the pitch process is fine

Honest communication of the decision criteria (price vs. "quality") and consistent application in the evaluation are of utmost importance for both sides. If the quality demands of marketing are too far decoupled from the cost-driven demands of procurement, this leads to frustration on the part of the agency in the first step.

In the second step, however, this also leads very quickly and in the long term to frustration of the client, who in everyday life does not experience the performance - quality, resources, pro-activity, innovations, etc. - from the pitch, after the agency adjusts (or has to adjust) to the commercially given framework and adapts the service.

Client:inside page, finds pitching not up to date

Work samples, best cases, get-to-know-you meeting and/or visit to the agency might already be enough. Often, the really good ideas don't come up in the short time it takes to prepare the pitch.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

As a small agency, I have generally not participated in pitches for years. There are a lot of demands nowadays, and the compensation (if there is any at all) never covers the effort, not even close. I prefer to put my energy into projects and assignments that I can design and implement from A to Z, which is definitely more fulfilling.

Pitches have degenerated into a blatant competition of ideas in which everyone tries to outbid each other to an ever more extreme degree. If you're not prepared to produce ideas by the metre for the dustbin, it's better not to take part. Unfortunately, I also had a bad experience years ago: I didn't win the pitch, but then the concept we presented was used anyway, simply implemented by an agency that did it cheaper. The use of our concept was actually legally prohibited or not part of the pitch, not to mention compensation. We did not take any legal steps, I prefer to put this energy into other customers.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

Just as I don't pitch when looking for a lawyer to advise me, for example, but try to find out in a personal meeting how he/she "ticks" and whether we can "smell" each other, I think that an agency selection would be much more effective.

Less waste of resources (a lot of time, a lot of money - for both sides, by the way), and it avoids that the agency starts with a specially assembled "pitch team", which the client then only gets to see sporadically (if at all) in the daily business and thus a false expectation is stirred up.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

Pitches are not sustainable - neither for brands nor for agencies.

For clients:

The campaigns that emerge from a pitch usually solve a problem - if at all - only superficially and in the short term. If the campaign is a success, those responsible write it on their CV. If the campaign is a flop, the agency partner is changed so that those responsible can secure their job. The campaign itself is usually only shot from the hip and does not pursue a sustainable strategy, which harms the brand more than it helps.

For agencies:

The investment for a pitch has not paid off economically for a long time. Whereas in the past the expenses were compensated with a multi-year mandate, today it is mostly a matter of individual contracts. This and the microscopically small budgets for which pitches are already being made today ensure that the agencies pay out either way.

The only solution:

Agencies should stop lying to themselves and stop working for free. Because despite the agreement, many agencies still take part in free pitches. And if you're honest, even a compensation of 2,500 - 5,000 Swiss francs is in principle a free pitch. Because the pittance covers at most 10 to 20 percent of the actual effort.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

A pitch fee of 5,000 to 10,000 Swiss francs should be the norm as proof of seriousness and compensation for expenses. This also leads to the fact that only five and not 10 agencies are requested. Limitation of offers/PPTs to e.g. 40 pages for profile, references, working methods would make sense, so that agencies do not always have to work out battles with 150+ pages. This also facilitates verification on the company side.

Client:inside side, finds the Pitch process in order

Contain pitch proposals: one proposal instead of several. This reduces the agency's effort and the client can get an idea of the agency's approach or strength of ideas.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

A pitch process costs the agency side a lot of money. The conception is an important asset of the agency and is retrieved via the pitch at a very low price, if not for free. So it is more than fair if the client side is also well prepared and allows time for the evaluation and the process.

Here are a few quick tips:

  • Number of invited agencies: The number should not be more than 5 agencies. The first evaluation should be done via recommendations and web check. A shortlist of 3-5 agencies will then be invited to pitch.
  • Clear rules: Often, only a rough concept is required. But then only the rough concept may be evaluated.
  • Budget: specify the budget, this helps the creative process.
  • Pitch fee: Even though the amount is symbolic, it shows agencies that the client is serious.
  • Presentation: The agency must be able to present the ideas.
  • Briefing: A clear briefing with clear strategic guidelines helps agencies to be able to develop the best possible ideas.

For example, an alternative way to make a goal-oriented pitch would be:

  • Stage 1: Question the briefing, ask the right questions and further develop the strategy (reduction from five to three agencies)
  • Stage 2: Concept development based on the revised brief. Presentation of ideas and feasibility (reduction from three to one winner).

Client:inside side, finds the Pitch process in order

As a client with agency experience, I pay a lot of attention to the internal culture of an agency and the interaction within the team. The regrettably high turnover at most agencies means additional work for clients, which agencies can reduce through a better internal culture.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

For successful campaigns to be realized, there needs to be much more intensive collaboration between client and agency these days, whether creative or media agency. It is therefore central that the client-agency team "works" and that they work together on a partnership level. These points can rarely be adequately assessed in a classic pitch process.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

"Pitchitis" is rampant, with pitching for every small and individual project. Unfortunately, clients find enough agencies to play the game. Agencies need to put a stop to this. Through clear guidelines such as a minimum order size and the contractual duration of collaboration after a pitch win.

Client:inside side, finds the Pitch process in order

Don't pitch budgets, but only individual campaigns. Then you can also keep the effort much lower (we as a client only want rough concepts) and it must present the team, which then also does the job.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

Clients make two critical mistakes when awarding (large) creative pitches.

  1. You leave the match-decisive part completely to the agency. But to achieve an optimal result, you would need the client's know-how as an integral part of the project. Today's communications world is too complex to simply leave all the important strategic and creative decisions to the agency. This leads to agencies making decisions and taking paths that are not goal-oriented. That's why most of the time, after the pitch, you start all over again.
  2. If an agency wants to win the pitch at all costs, then it invests everything; 200% commitment, time and energy. This leads to a massively distorted image of the agency - because after the pitch, normal "everyday life" begins. That has to work well in a standard mode so that the client is happy in the long term. I often find that after that comes the rude awakening for the client. Possible solution: if you are interested in agency X, just do a small project. This gives much more information about the quality of work and cooperation than a pitch.

Agency side, finds pitching not up to date

Too often everything is subordinated to a pitch and the real, properly paid work is done on the side. So from 6 p.m. until deep into the night.

Agency side, thinks the pitch process is fine

Pitches are not wrong per se. However, it is a question of how the pitch is designed. Important: Maximum of three agencies, either only a small test task without too much effort or then paid.

Does not explicitly assign himself to a side, does not find pitching contemporary

From the client's point of view: An agency and its concept should not win a pitch, but new clients of the client. In other words, what you get from a pitch is actually the wrong concept.

Out of agency addiction: in the online industry we abolished pitches a decade ago. I don't know why advertising agencies still go through all this hassle without payment.

Some agencies are taking an open stance on pitch culture:

Dirk Unger from Campfire has already written on this topic published a post on LinkedIn.

The Yellow agency also positions itself in a blog post on the agency website to pitch.

NeidhartSchön and various other agencies have signed a pitch code.

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