Ridding the industry of the pitch as we know it

 

One size does NOT fit all

By Monika Zalaite

Business Director, Creativebrief

Call it a silver bullet, or waving the magic wand, the prospect of one single (but widely applicable) solution has always fascinated our industry. You’ll see suggestions bandied about in opinion pieces and on stage – ‘this will finally put [insert industry topic here] to rest.’

The fact that such an appetite exists is because the industry faces such a wealth of problems. Or at least puzzles.

The pitch is no different. The oldest stalwart of the industry and yet the most stubborn in its evolution.

The industry is for the most part agreed on why it must change, but the thinking as to how that happens is a little more complex. Some are offering your modernised, simpler, nice shiny alternatives – but is it naïve to think that simply one solution is capable of solving everyone’s problems with the pitch?

We recently hosted a dinner on the subject, inviting industry leaders to add their experiences and views to our ongoing work on the topic.

Lisa Thomas, Global Head of Brand & Managing Director at Virgin, hit the nail on the head when she said:

“The issue I have with the pitch process is that it’s a ‘one size fits all’ expectation of a long drawn out process and a shootout for ads at the end of it.”

Britvic’s Global Category and Capability Director Jonathan Gatward shared Lisa’s view saying how:

“It's incredibly dangerous to cookie-cutter the process. Instead, it has to be appropriate to the outcome you are trying to generate, both as a brand builder and an agency.”

If then the brief, the brand and the people are all about individuality and wanting something bespoke, why isn’t the process?

Simplicity, or streamlining, are often put forwards as solutions. Third-party organisations might look to remove parts of the process to save everyone some time. But without a proper assessment of what’s being taken away, and indeed what remains, this’ll only cost time.

Larissa Vince, Managing Director of Saatchi & Saatchi London, said:

“I’m not sure streamlined is the right word for brands. It’s about a bespoke process. It’s a case of saying, these are your needs as a client and therefore here is a good pitch.”

The idea of a bespoke process, and not an ambiguously ‘simple’ one, quickly gained support. Whilst it might seem sensible to solve a problem with simplicity, that simplicity will always be defined by whoever is manning the pitch. What’s simpler is to look at the problem on an individual basis and work towards a bespoke solution.

If they are starting a new process because an old one hasn’t worked out, then finding the source of that friction is key. Did they fail to get the service they wanted? The talent? Or was it the work that didn’t meet their expectations?

Tailoring the process around these elements, or at least using them as a starting point, can help the client make the right decision as to who to appoint much earlier.

This doesn’t mean starting from scratch each time – that won’t help anyone. It means starting with a framework and working with the client on how it might flex in order to deliver the best process for all parties.

If what the client wants from the agency is scrutinised far more, then the process by which they find it also needs to be. Agency workshops create a much more accurate reflection of what it will mean to work together by bringing some humanity into the competitive process.

When discussing his experience, Publicis’s CEO Nick Farnhill said how “done well, the workshop should be more about diagnosis than prescription.”

By prioritising the diagnosis, the focus of the process shifts from finding the ‘ta-da!’ answer and instead collectively identifying a problem.

We need to take a step back and break the illusion that there’ll be one single solution to a process that affects brands and agencies in entirely different ways. Adhering to any such solution won’t save you time. Without flex, it’ll only risk morphing back into the costly process you were trying to avoid.

Diagnosing the problem and working from there, with intelligence and flexibility, is the way you’ll ultimately find the best agency/brand relationship. As Lisa and Jonathan suggest, one size does not fit all, so tailoring is a must.

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