Britvic tests new way of pitching as it looks to improve ‘inefficient’ process

Britvic trialled a new format when it pitched for work on its Wisehead Productions brands as it looks to reduce the amount of time, energy and cost that pitching can generate for both clients and agencies.

London Essence

Britvic is no stranger to pitching. Last year, it ran two pitches for Robinsons and a trio of its adult drinks brands that Saatchi & Saatchi and VCCP were awarded respectively.

But this year the company had a different challenge. It wanted to find an agency to work on its WiseHead Productions brands, a new range of products aimed at adults that include mixers The London Essence Company, sparkling drink Thomas & Evans No 1 and Monte Rosso, an Italian aperitivo-style soft drink.

Jonathan Gatward, global category and capability director at Britvic and co-founder of WiseHead Productions, recognised that pitching for this business required a different way of thinking because of the size of the brands and the market Britvic was trying to position them in.

“The brands we are working on don’t work to the same kind of FMCG marketing model, it’s a much higher-touch consumer model, more premium. First, we wanted to work with someone who was very experienced in that field,” he explains to Marketing Week.

“Secondly, the brands are at the beginning of their journey, so we were also very cognisant that we wanted to work with a partner where we would be important enough to them.”

He adds: “I didn’t want to needlessly get anybody spending money on our behalf. And I didn’t want to get to a place where we had a load of creative work on the table that may or may not see the light of day. It was important to us that as we developed creative it absolutely was something we wanted to work as a real-world project with the aim of getting it out there.”

The pitch was for work on London Essence, which Britvic wanted to launch in a way that felt different to the market. To do that, it trialled Creativebrief’s new ‘try before you buy’ format where after an initial chemistry/strategy meeting, the brand worked with one agency on a four-week trial basis. The idea for the pitch process came from Creativebrief, which set out the rules of engagement for how the pitch would work and ran it.

I feel quite proud that one, if not another two, agencies didn’t incur costs on our behalf that their clients ultimately have to bear. That’s my Christmas gift.

Jonathan Gatward, HeadWise Productions

While four agencies went through the process, Leagas Delaney was taken through to the trial portion. The two companies then agreed a fee to cover costs and an amount that would be paid if at the end of the four weeks WiseHead got the output it wanted – work they could run in market that hit the brief and addressed the strategic challenge.

“We put something on the table and they put something on the table,” says Fergus Hay, CEO at Leagas Delaney. “That felt equitable. And that was quite easily agreed between us.”

Both parties worked on the understanding they could end the relationship after the four weeks if it didn’t prove successful, or make it a more formal arrangement. But it was a success and Britvic appointed Splendid Communications for consumer PR and Leagas Delaney as its lead creative agency for WiseHead Productions.

Making a judgement call

However, Gatward confesses the process was challenging at times because the decision over which agency to pick from the shortlist of three required a bigger judgement call than usual given there wasn’t that extra time or another round of work to see. And he admits if it hadn’t worked out it would have left WiseHead in a “slightly challenged position” because of the time frames it was looking to get work out in.

“That was the time when it felt most challenging for me and the team, to make our best estimate as to what we thought the best next step was,” he recalls. “But the flipside of that is we were investing as much in the outcome. Any one of the last two or three partners we could have chosen were all great businesses with great people, so in theory you shouldn’t be able to hit too many buffers at that point in time.”

The work Leagas Delaney created for The London Essence Company has now launched in the UK and is set to roll out in more markets internationally. Using the line ‘Only the most’, the campaign aims to build brand awareness and reframe what premium means in the mixer category.

With that in mind, WiseHead has pitched The London Essence Company as more of a luxury brand than an FMCG, with the ad featuring close-ups of the mixer being poured overlaid with text that talks to the fact only “jaw-droppingly delectable” cocktails deserve London Essence tonic. It is running in premium print and paid social, alongside point-of-sale and experiential activity.

“Hand on heart, I can say something tangible came out of this process and we’re happy with it. Could we have got to that work by a different process? Possibly, but I feel quite proud that one, if not another two, agencies didn’t incur costs on our behalf that their clients ultimately have to bear. That’s my Christmas gift.”

Changing the pitch process across the industry

This was the first time Creativebrief ran its ‘try before you buy’ pitching model although it has since trialled it with some other brands. And while the scale and requirements of the WiseHead brands are quite different to those of the wider Britvic business, Gatward thinks the process could work for bigger brands.

“If we were taking one of the core brands and running it through then the promise of more spend to come almost creates an environment where the agency is over-investing in an effort to win because it has a future profit opportunity,” he explains.

“There’s a bit more risk mitigation to do in those situations and scenarios. If you’ve got three different agencies presenting three different routes that you might want to look at does that increase the chances of getting something that is really successful? Possibly. But you’ve all got the same access to the same insight and client partners so you’d hope all that work would work.

“It’s a more comfortable way of doing it. Does it get to a better outcome? I don’t know, I’ve never run it side by side.”

As I’m proving, [changes to pitching] are happening around the edges rather than in the core.

Jonathan Gatward, WiseHead Productions

Hay is less sure however. While he can see the process works for smaller brands, disruptive startups or those trying to shift their market position, he feels it might be a harder sell in big multinationals.

“[High-growth clients] are primed for this way of working because it’s in their culture. But you go to big organisations with procurement departments KPI’d on the standard pitch process, that is a difficult shift,” he suggests.

“If I’m Daimler and I’m moving hundreds of millions of dollars of engagement with an agency I’m probably going to want to have a seriously rigorous process because when I move I can only move once because the cost of moving is incredible, both in real money and time. If you’ve got smaller engagements, then you can choose more lean and laser targeted approaches.”

Gatward admits that given the process of pitching can be very “inefficient” there must be a better way of doing it. However, he believes it is hard for agencies to move first and for clients to change behaviour because much of it is so inbuilt.

“As I’m proving, [changes] are happening around the edges rather than in the core,” he says.

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