Advertisers urged to change approach to pitching amid mental health ‘crisis’

ISBA’s director of agency services believes pitches have become “more frequent, more complex and more costly”, to the detriment of both advertisers and their agencies.

Source: Shutterstock

ISBA, the trade body representing advertisers, is asking brands to get involved in a new cross-industry plan to improve the pitching process between advertisers and agencies.

The joint initiative between ISBA and the IPA, the organisation representing agencies, plans to make pitches more “intentional, accountable and effective” for both advertisers and agencies through a Pitch Positive Pledge.

By focusing on the “why and when” of pitching rather than the “how to”, the project hopes to improve mental health, reduce advertiser wastage and costs, and produce more effective work.

Spearheaded by IPA president Julian Douglas and ISBA’s director of agency services Andrew Lowdon, the plans have been triggered by the discovery of a “mental health crisis” among overworked staff.

The All In Census, which surveyed 16,000 people across brands, agencies, media owners and intermediaries in March 2021, found nearly a third (31%) of respondents reported feeling stressed and anxious, rising to 45% among LGBTQ+ employees, 38% among those aged 25 to 34, and 36% among women.

“There’s a crisis we’re facing today and that’s mental health, and we can’t wait until the end of the decade to fix this one,” said Douglas, speaking at the Renew2022 conference today (27 January) as he and Lowdon announced the initiative.

We’re trying to change behaviour… We certainly need the support of advertisers in working our way through this journey.

Andrew Lowdon, ISBA

While pitches are “brilliant” for agencies, they can be “very stressful” and lead to “burnout”, Douglas added. “We need to come together [and] we need to act now in 2022,” he said.

ISBA’s Lowdon added that a mental health crisis within agencies poses a serious problem for advertisers too.

“Advertisers certainly need a healthy landscape with dynamic agencies and great creative work. That’s the lifeblood of our industry,” he said.

According to Lowdon, it is likely a “significant number” of pitches taking place now are “unnecessary”, while even necessary pitches are generating “a lot of unnecessary work” with the existing approach.

“This represents wastage we should look to reduce. In recent times, pitches have become more frequent, more complex and more costly. More costly to both agency and advertisers, and more costly for the individuals and the environment,” he said.

“Pitching has become the default option, often for smaller projects that previously would not have required a pitch.”

However, developing a new approach towards pitching cannot be done by agencies and trade bodies alone, Lowdon warned.Marketing Room 101: It’s time to ban free pitches, hyper targeting and meaningless content

“We really need advertisers to become involved,” he said. “We’re trying to change behaviour, change approach… We certainly need the support of advertisers in working our way through this journey.

“Ultimately the work and the quality of people involved in that work will lead to the pitch pledge. If we get it right, we will have something which is sustainable which I believe will change the industry. That’s the goal we seek from this for agencies, advertisers and intermediaries.”

The advertisers Lowdon spoke to in the lead up to the launch of the initiative have have been largely positive, he added, and are showing “so much support”.

“We’ve had some great feedback already, advertisers I’ve spoken to want to be involved in this work… There’s a great deal of belief that something has to change.”

The IPA and ISBA will be running a series of workshops with their members, partners and intermediaries to work through the full details and commitments of the Pitch Positive Pledge, which will be launched to the industry during Mental Health Awareness week in May 2022.

“There’s a lot of work we’ve got to do to develop this further. But ultimately, we’re seeking long-term changes in behaviour,” Lowdon concluded.