Clients and agencies slam flaws in the pitching process

Client-side marketers and agency representatives have launched a fierce critique of the way business is currently pitched and won, ranging from vague briefs and onerous contract terms to poor work that ignores a brand’s uniqueness or its customers’ needs.

'Team Client' (left_ and 'Team Agency' face off at Oystercatchers' Future of Pitching event
‘Team Client’ (left) and ‘Team Agency’ face off at Oystercatchers’ Future of Pitching event

Brands and agencies lack effective communication during pitches, leading to frustration on both sides and missed opportunities, an industry panel suggests.

At an event last night (6 July) hosted by Oystercatchers, the marketing consulting firm, two teams of around a dozen people each – one representing clients, the other agencies – faced off to debate the future of pitching.

On the client-side, former Vodafone marketing director Daryl Fielding, who is now a consultant, argued that the pitching process has become too cut-throat and competitive, to the extent that it is affecting the quality of agency work.

“My experience is that the agencies are so keen to win that the empathy, understanding and focus on the customer sort of gets lost,” she said. “If agencies could retain that focus and empathy they’d be more likely to win, but because it’s a competition it just becomes a bit [aggressively fought], and that destroys quite a lot of the value in the process.”

Several members of the agency team listed their own complaints about how clients approach the pitching process. Neil Simpson, founding partner of ad agency The Corner, suggested that some clients abuse the process by using it as a way of gathering ideas without intending to commission work.

He said that clients tend to underestimate the huge cost of pitching for agencies – which he put at £170,000 – while seeking unfair advantages through the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). “We had one [NDA] that said ‘through this pitch process all [intellectual property] is owned by the client at the end of it, regardless of whether you win or you don’t’.

“I think some code of practice where agencies say no [to things like that] and clients agree they’ve got to clean up their house would help the process.”

In a tetchy exchange, Vue cinemas commercial director Dominic Rowell asked whether Simpson had signed the NDA in question. Simpson said no, as Rowell retorted: “You’re given a choice, don’t sign it.”

However, John Allert, group brand director at luxury car brand McLaren, acknowledged that the client can be at fault and said that his own company was guilty of letting briefs become progressively less focused throughout the duration of a client-agency relationship.

“We had a fantastic pitch that ultimately VCCP won some years ago, and we peaked with probably the best brief we’ve ever come up with and therefore got the best work,” he said.

“The great shame was the brief degradation over a period of time, and to this day I know, to my great shame, that the best piece of work we ever got out of that agency in the year in which they won agency of the year, was actually the work they did for us in the pitch. Any work that we [briefed] subsequent to that just got more and more vague, less and less pointy, less and less insightful and necessarily we ended up with worse and worse work through no fault of the agency – it was completely down to us.”

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  • Helen 28 Jul 2016 at 3:52 pm

    I believe that the pitching process is important in ensuring effective communication and utilisation of all opportunities.

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