Seeking out the collaborators

The UK ad industry’s publication of a pitching charter is a hopeful sign, for it is the agencies which collaborate with their clients that are most likely to sustain long relationships, says John Shannon. John Shannon is President of Grey Inte

The UK industry has taken an important step towards greater collaboration between advertising agencies and their clients with the publication of the so-called “pitching charter”.

This set of guidelines, jointly developed by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising & Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, is designed to alleviate the problems of time-wasting and cost associated with new business pitches.

It is always easy to criticise such industry guidelines on the grounds that they are, by definition, unenforceable. But the move does demonstrate a genuine concern about problems that have been slowly spreading throughout Europe.

In France, for example, the latest “Etude Ballester”, a bi-annual poll among advertisers testing the image of agencies and industry practices, clearly reflects a deteriorating relationship.

It shows that pitch activity is increasing, with half the respondents admitting they have seen agencies in the past year or more recently. It also shows that while pitches are becoming more frequent, in every second review the incumbent is confirmed – a finding which has led the French advertising magazine, CB News, to conclude that some advertisers are using pitches to tighten the screw on agencies.

There have been similar signs of friction in Germany. In the summer much wringing of hands was caused by the invitation of some 200 agencies to compete for the $21.6m (13.8m) Expo 2000 account.

Shortly after this incident, the German advertising press reported further industry unrest. This time it was caused by a decision by MAN GHH Logistics to invite four agencies to pitch without remuneration. The move led one agency to press the German advertising association, GWA, to impose sanctions on member agencies which present without remuneration.

Nobody should expect the relationship between agency and client to be entirely free from periodic tensions and difficulties. After all, both sides operate under tremendous pressure to perform successfully and this is bound to create friction. But if, as seems to be the case, the nature and quality of that relationship is deteriorating, any initiative that strives to bring the two sides closer together should be welcomed and replicated in other markets.

The European Association of Advertising conference earlier this year saw each presentation made jointly by agencies and their clients. It is these agencies, ones which have managed to build and sustain long-term relationships with major clients, that have a competitive edge.

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