Over the last few years, I have been in the privileged position of looking at the advertising industry from the edges (not being in an agency myself) and boy does the industry look broken. Nothing typifies this more than the relentless nature of pitching across the industry. It is amazing how many times when trying to meet up with my peers do I hear that classic comment 'Sorry, can't make it as in the middle of a pitch.' So much time is wasted on pitching and it seems as if agencies are now stuck in a relentless cycle of pitch after pitch after pitch.
Don't get me wrong, I do not think that pitches should be banned - pitching can be good. It keeps you fresh. It can be a real catalyst for ideas and innovation - both our Cannes Cyber Lions winners when I was at Profero came off the back of pitches. However there has to be a better way of doing it - a topic that comes up time and time again at our global Creative Social events. And last month we were given the opportunity to try something different - we were approached by Converse
to help them find a way to get an idea outside their existing agency relationships (which they are very happy with by the way and the incumbents were also invited to join in). It was very much run as an experiment and the agencies involved, Achtung
, Anomaly London
, Conran Singh
, were given the opportunity to actually input into the process (in fact, possibly the best idea, came from one of the agencies). Converse wanted to get fantastic ideas by focusing on the naked value of the idea only, ensuring the process was as efficient as possible.So what did we do differently?
1. The Briefing
- rather than get all the agencies to rewrite the brief and kill the life out of it (from my experience, agency briefs tend to be so dull), the client wrote a clear brief (which did not need rewriting by five different agencies). Converse hosted a half day session with all the agencies together with the sole intention of inspiring and interacting with the creatives who were going to deliver the ideas - suits and planners were banned from the process.
2. The Pitch Presentation
- We have all been there. We have the ideas but we know we need to deliver a seamless pitch presentation and put in days and days to make sure that the final delivery is perfect. We put our best pitchers in the room and sometimes we might even win when our idea, at a naked level, is not necessarily the best one. But this was all about ideas. I have (and I know the client had) always bought into the concept it should be possible to deliver the best ideas on a post it note. As a consequence every agency had just nine days to deliver each idea on a single sheet of A4. No agency creds. No Appendix. No fancy videos. And for the three best ideas, just a 30 minute Skype call to give a little more background.
3. Total Transparency
- Each agency had to submit their ideas in the same format completely unbranded (only I knew the owner of each idea). In this way there was no perceived favouritsm as the client didn't want to know where each idea came from, and so people were confident the best idea would win.
The results were extremely positive. In total 27 ideas were submitted and the client was very happy with the process. Jamie Coomber
, digital manager for Converse UK
said: 'When we looked at what we needed from this brief, it was simply one singular outstanding creative idea, so we stripped out the rest of the process and made that the primary focus. We had a very clear brief so we wanted to talk to the creatives directly about what we were looking for and to give them the opportunity to ask questions in a relaxed, open environment. Good ideas speak for themselves, so by confining the responses to one sheet of A4, they were able to forget about the theatrics in how the idea is delivered and concentrate their efforts purely on the creative solution.'
Just as importantly the feedback from the agencies was fantastic with an average score of 9 out of 10 when asked how they perceived the overall process (and yes this was after the final result was announced). Daljit Singh
, founder of London-based interactive design agency Conran Singh
said: 'It's great being in the same room as the competition and hearing ideas thoughts and insights directly, from the client together as one group. It was even better to be able to distill ones thoughts onto one page of A4 - no drawn out powerpoint or endless arguments about how to respond to a brief. The purity of the idea was paramount'. Dave Bedwood
, creative partner at Lean Mean Fighting Machine added: 'We all moan about pitches, we all talk about doing them differently, yet like lemmings reading their iPhones we trundle to them. Checking in when we arrive. For the ad world, UnPitch did an unusual thing, it stopped talking, and did it differently. I hope it doesn't remain an unusual experience.'
Obviously I am not suggesting that all pitches should be run this way. Where a longer term engagement is involved, there is no doubt that chemistry is fundamental and client services and planning have to be integral to the process. But things really do need to change and even for longer assignments there has to be a better way. One of my fellow Socials has suggested that clients should lose the whole lengthy pitch process and just give a 24 hour brief and then sit down with each agency, workshop-style, to discuss thoughts/ideas with the team who will be working on their business. Let's be honest, once you have put an agency on this list, you must know they can deliver so it really comes down to chemistry and whether they best understand your business and your challenges.
There is no doubt that the intermediaries have a part to play in shaping this change but what we really need is more clients recognizing the need to do things differently and more efficiently. Mark Chalmers
, my partner on Creative Social would go even further: 'I don't encourage or endorse any sort of "pitch" process without some sort of exchange for hearing ideas. Exchange is a good habit and gives value to ideas - when ideas are shared from this level of talent, they are world class, and provocative for the business owner whether they work with them or not.
I also believe the best work comes from relationships, the TBWA/Absolut
relationship was one of the longest in history. The product of that has been so culturally significant it's been good. We're in a world where waste matters, so guys and gals, work at relationships. Don't throw them away.'
Irrespective, if we could get just get everyone reading this to send it to every brand manager/marketing director they know, then maybe we can get them to think differently next time they think about running a pitch. Hopefully this might lead to the industry looking a little less broken, with more time for inspiration and spending time with our peers.
I would love to hear your thoughts. But if you find I don't get back to you quickly it is probably because, having moved back agency side, I am deep into a massive pitch. Long live the pitch.
Daniele Fiandaca is co-founder, Creative Social and head of innovation at Cheil