CLOSE-UP: ON THE CAMPAIGN COUCH ... WITH JB

Piers Bracher of G3 UK writes: Dear Jeremy, During a recent credentials presentation to a prospective client, we were suddenly invited to join the pitch for them, competing with two international agencies of some repute. Having been encouraged to invest a good deal of time and effort in the process, we pitched and were unsuccessful. It later transpired that the agency selected already had an established relationship with that client and the result was more or less a fait accompli. How do we, as smaller agencies, get around the problem of judging whether this is likely to be the outcome and do you believe there is a case to ask this kind of client (who was clearly just trawling around for a few comparative ideas) to pay for development work?

Dear Piers, thank you for your kind enquiry. It is not, of course, only the smaller agencies who fret about all this: every agency, irrespective of size, knows itself to be disproportionately discriminated against.

Actuarially, this is improbable.

Examine the first half of your question scrupulously. You frequently complain of your clients' illogical insistence on being presented with original work which has a proven record of commercial success; yet you want to know the likely outcome of competitive presentations before deciding whether or not to participate.

What your question confirms, of course, is the existence of those two quite distinct but unconceded stages through which all agencies pass in their hectic quest for new business. The first is a pre-pitch stage; the second, post-pitch.

Before the pitch there is the Stage of Mindless Optimism. In the midst of a routine credentials presentation, you are invited to compete for a large chunk of real business against two international agencies of considerable repute. You are ecstatic. It's clear that the client sees your reel as a refreshing contrast to the bland-and-worthy work of the two international dinosaurs, more revered for their co-ordination than their creativity.

This is the breakthrough you've been waiting for. All stops are out. Anything goes.

Then comes the pitch. You tell your team that they were wonderful; and very shortly afterwards comes the phone call which expresses a somewhat different view.

Instantly, we move into The Story Stage. The Story is a shameless work of exculpation: we didn't lose, we was robbed. In the long history of advertising agencies, no new-business endeavour has failed because of the superior submission of a competitor. If you don't believe me, read the internal e-mails; study The Stories.

The Story, in your case, seems built on unusually frail foundations.

"It later transpired,

you write, "that the agency selected had an established relationship with that client and the result was more or less a fait accompli.

There are at least a couple of questionable sequiturs here. Established relationships are not only a matter of record, so your outrage at this belated discovery rings a bit hollow; but they are also the principle cause of client discontent: ask any agency that's been invited to repitch for a long-established piece of existing business. (It was this very fact, you may remember, that fuelled your Mindless Optimism only a few weeks ago.)

You then attempt to give further credibility to The Story by suggesting you were included in the pitchlist only because the client was trawling around for a few free ideas.

As long as agencies scramble indiscriminately to get included on pitchlists - which they do; and as long as agencies are reckless in their expenditure of time and talent in their determination to impress - which they are: there will be clients, sensibly enough, happy to take advantage of them.

I mock neither The Stage of Mindless Optimism nor the need to create The Story. Both are necessary and legitimate management tools for our deeply competitive and insecure trade. But in our understandable attempts to delude ourselves, do let's take care that we're not successful.

- Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J. Walter Thompson and a director of WPP. He also writes a monthly column for Management Today. A compilation of his business advice, Another Bad Day at the Office?, is published by Penguin, priced £5.99. Address your problems to him at campaign@ haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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