Advertising Agencies Strike To Protest Unfair New Business "Pitch" Process

Wow, I’m embarrassed to be part of the world-wide advertising industry after confirming this story.

It seems that in Belgium, agency people are bothered that advertisers (clients) aren’t following some sort of old “charter” that defined how new business pitches should be conducted.  So they went on a one week strike.

While protesting in the streets, the cooperating agencies also changed their websites to a simple page that explained their frustration with the new process and explained why it was bad for everyone.

That’s crazy.

Look, these agencies are not upset because they get their hopes up, spend some money and do their best work on pitches just to find out that they wasted their time.  Rather, these agencies are upset mainly because they say the clients are inviting too many agencies to pitch, sometimes bringing in ten or more different agencies for one account, which reduces their chances of winning the business down to oh, say 10%.  Egads, what logic!  It’s like advertising pitches are now following a lottery system.

How silly.

Our agency is invited to pitch for business many times throughout the year.  In fact, we work very hard just to make sure we’re included in the process.  While I know that math says if ten agencies are involved, each has a 10% chance of winning; however, I can’t help but remember that this logic doesn’t apply when I’m at Arlington Park putting ten dollars down on the 25-1 shot in a six horse race.

The truth is that nothing out there is fair and equal.  Heck, I don’t believe there even is a solid universal “truth”.  Really.  Everyone’s realities are so different, how can there be one truth?

So when it comes to pitches, who says the agency people can or should make the rules?  Sure, they could try, but why would any client follow them?  Last I saw, clients liked to have the final say on their accounts and how they are handled, starting from the pitch.

So our goal is to be invited to every pitch.  That’s right, we want to be invited to every single one.  Why not? It cost us nothing really for the invitation, and we get to know a few new contacts. Plus, it’s good for morale.

However, once we’re included in the pitch, it is totally up to us to decide whether we want to participate.  Sometimes the RFP makes it clear that a lot will be expected from us for little in return — unless we win.  Do we take the chance?  How well do we know the client, market and industry?  Who’s in the pitch with us and what are their strengths and weaknesses?  Are we a 25-1 shot, or more even money?

New businesses pitches should be a thrill for agencies.  After all, WE are our client at the time; so we cannot complain that the client made us change this, or the client said they didn’t have the budget for that.  Everything is up to us.  How cool is that?

But advertising is a business, and pitches require time, money and discipline.  You cannot and should not go after everything and anything; therefore, any responsible agency has to decide when to take a chance and when to sit one out.  Often this decision does not come down to money or time, but rather styles and approaches — meaning, do the client and agency mesh?  That to me is the biggest reason we’re hired — we’re on the same page as the client — and it’s the most valuable factor when it comes to determining whether we will pitch an account.

So what do you think about agencies claiming that clients aren’t playing fair?  Think this could happen here in the U.S.?  While agencies certainly are competitive with each other,  I don’t think we’re organized or powerful enough as an industry to pull anything like this off.  And anyway, we’d just look stupid and greedy for trying it.  Plus, U.S. clients know what they’re doing, and most are too busy to waste their own time meeting so many different agencies.

Oh well.  At least I’m proud to be in advertising in this country.