Germans act to ease pitch fears

In response to the wasted resources of unnecessary pitches, in Germany the industry has made a pitch guide for advertisers, likely to lead to better client/agency relations. John Shannon is president of Grey International.

Over the past year one of the issues that has dominated the agenda for agency managements across Europe has been concern about the way in which pitch practice is undermining the basis of successful long-term client/agency relationships.

Already the British and the French have developed guidelines to help advertisers build stronger and mutually beneficial relationships, now Germany is taking positive steps to head off a growing problem of disharmony between advertisers and their agencies.

The situation came to a head in Germany when the TV station Sat 1 decided to review its DM50m (22m) advertising account following a 0.2 per cent drop in audience share. The station asked 16 agencies to pitch.

While the case prompted considerable comment in Germany’s industry press, it is far from exceptional. In fact, a survey among Germany’s top 100 agencies shows that German pitches are turning into marathons, both in terms of length and the number of participants.

Standard presentations cost anything from DM100,000 to DM300,000 (42,000 to 126,000), and although most prospective clients pay something towards the costs, it is rarely more than a nominal sum.

As a result, some German agencies are reluctant to enter pitches where the chances of winning are slim and the costs high. Moreover, many see such drawn out pitches as a poor precursor to good long-term relationships.

Now, however, Germany’s advertising association, the GWA, is taking a grip on the situation by suggesting pitch guidelines. In so doing, it is mirroring developments in the UK and France where pitch charters and guidelines for better client/agency relationships have proved to be constructive for both parties.

Like its British counterpart, the GWA pitch guide proposes a number of points designed to make the pitching process easier. Clients, for example, are asked to think about what they want to achieve and who might be best suited to the task, before starting out.

Included among the advice is the recommendation that advertisers must ask themselves whether a new agency is really necessary, and if so, whether a full pitch is really needed.

The experience of France and the UK suggests that success of the GWA’s initiative will depend upon the response of the clients. By at least considering the proposals, experience shows that both sides stand to gain.

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