No pitches? Is that really a problem?

The headline screamed that the number of ad reviews were up 17% but, the text continued,“the new-business market, including media, digital and direct marketing, slumped by 15.5%, according to data from the AAR”.
The number of digital reviews fell by 8.5%, while DM reviews were down by two-thirds. Integrated reviews, where the client aimed to appoint one agency for a number of disciplines, also showed a steep decline, down 47.5%.
Kerry Glazer, the AAR chief executive, said: “It is encouraging to see the uplift in the number and nature of advertising reviews but, as far as the new-business market is concerned, I don’t think we are out of the woods yet.”
Now call me old-fashioned but why is this a problem? OK, new biz directors in digital and DM agencies might be twiddling their thumbs a bit more, or delving further and further into their contact books, but surely the fact that pitches are in decline means that clients are content with the work and service they are getting, ergo: there is no need to conduct expensive pitches.
Of course, this is not great news for marketing journalists and the likes of the AAR – which claim to offer other consultancy services yet ostensibly rely heavily on pitches – but in terms of wasted hours it must be a boon.
Scratch under the surface of any bullish agency chief and they will confess that they actually hate pitching. Not only do the vast majority of pitches end in misery, they often take weeks of meticulous planning – frankly weeks which could be much better spent getting on with proper work. They would much rather work with existing clients and try to build business
that way.
The issue is so misunderstood that the industry’s trade bodies are forever bringing out new guides to assist in the process. In March, for instance, client and agency trade bodies joined forces to help improve client/agency briefings across all channels, which according to one of the authors could see potential savings of “tens of millions of pounds”.
Now, of course, I am not proposing the death of all new business pitches. After all, sometimes client/agency relationships reach a natural conclusion and it can take a fresh injection to reinvigorate a brand. But, sorry Kerry, to say “we’re not out of the woods” yet makes a mockery of the market.
Surely the best way, as with any relationship, is to build it into a long-term partnership, not just pack it in at the first sign of a disagreement.

Charlie McKelvey is publishing editor of DecisionMarketing

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