Close-Up: Live Issue - Can creative-free pitches get results?

Are clients wise to appoint agencies based on chemistry and credentials alone?

David Pemsel's decision to hold a fast-turnaround pitch for ITV's £20 million creative account has raised the issue of whether it's necessary to hold a full-blown and deeply involved creative pitch.

ITV's marketing director is looking to base his decision on chemistry and credentials, not creative and strategy. He enlisted the AAR to draw up a shortlist of four agencies - Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Mother, DDB London and Beattie McGuinness Bungay - and expects to make a quick decision, as early as next week.

Agencies welcome this decisiveness because it saves time and money when pitching. It is not only kinder to the losing agencies, whose hard work is ultimately consigned to the dustbin, but also to the winner, whose pitch-winning ideas rarely see the light of day, either. With a few notable exceptions - BMB's "not for sale" work for Ikea, for instance - consumers tend not to see work presented in pitches.

However, to some, the chemistry and credentials approach smacks of cronyism. Marc Sands, the marketing director of Guardian Media Group, says: "They might just be planning to give it to their mates. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, don't have a pitch if you know who you're going to give it to."

The current review isn't the first time Pemsel has taken an unconventional approach to hiring an agency. In May, he hired Mother to create an integrated campaign to promote the ITV2 series The Secret Diary of a Call Girl without a pitch.

While no-one doubts Pemsel will be anything other than rigorous in his evaluation of the four agencies he has shortlisted, there are those in the industry who question whether the approach is the most sensible way to find the right one, and whether it can lead to a long and fruitful relationship.

Stuart Pocock, the managing partner at The Observatory, is not convinced. "I think it's dangerous to make a decision based solely on chemistry. If agencies had been given some work to do, and there was debate about it, then it could work," he says.

While few would contest that the use of creative work in a pitch is not always necessary, what has raised eyebrows is the absence of a strategic element to the process.

BBH, the bookies' favourite to win back its former account, famously never presents creative work, only strategy. This is fast becoming a popular approach, and was adopted by the Heinz marketing director, Suzanne Douglas, in the food giant's recent pitch, won by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

In selecting such a high-calibre shortlist, Pemsel appears to know what he wants from an agency, and is placing greater importance on finding the right people to work with.

Russell Ramsey, the JWT executive creative director, says: "The client is trying to find someone they think can give them the answer, rather than seeing the answer before they appoint. So I think it's probably a good thing."

While this might work for someone with Pemsel's agency background, it may not for someone without agency experience.

As an approach to pitching, it's an unusual one, albeit one which agencies are cautiously welcoming. Whether it provides good grounding on which to build a lasting relationship remains to be seen, but if it does, it could put the onus on clients to be more instinctive in their selection of agencies in the future.

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

CLIENT - MARC SANDS, MARKETING DIRECTOR, GUARDIAN MEDIA GROUP

"I would not do a pitch without the full monty.

"If I was marketing ITV, I'd want a full strategic and creative pitch. If it's just about marketing the channel's programmes, then there might be a way of doing it without creative work. But even so, you'd want the winning agency to market the shows in the most creative way, so I would say 'show me what you can do with ten programmes'.

"The other issue is why wouldn't you wait until Rupert Howell (ITV's new managing director of commercial and brand) is there?"

MATCHMAKER - STUART POCOCK, MANAGING PARTNER, THE OBSERVATORY

"It depends how ITV develops those chemistry meetings. If it just spends a morning at each agency, David Pemsel and his team come away thinking 'they're really nice people', because all ad people are. It's not until you've given agencies a challenge and you start debating whether it's right or wrong that you understand what those people are like to work with - whether they are truly collaborative, or whether they throw their toys out of the pram. You need an opportunity to interact with the agency and see what they're really like.

"I would counsel very strongly against making a decision based solely on a chemistry meeting."

AGENCY CHIEF - IAN PEARMAN, MANAGING PARTNER, ABBOTT MEAD VICKERS BBDO

"It's not about what's presented, it's about the frequency and style of conversation; that means that agencies and clients can really get a chance to work with each other.

"Sometimes, two or three chemistry sessions or projects can achieve that, or sometimes it's tissue creative sessions.

"There is a degree to which the classic ad pitch of one briefing meeting and one big creative presentation tests people's salesmanship. This is arguably not what you should be testing as a client."

CREATIVE - RUSSELL RAMSEY, EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, JWT

"A lot of it comes down to chemistry and seeing how agencies work and seeing what kind of thinking they do. Clients ought to be able to make a decision based on that and who they think will get the answer for them, rather than making agencies jump through lots of hoops.

"Often the clients are scared of making decisions, so they ask for more and more material to make it easier for them.

"You're far better off doing good creative work with a client who's bought you because of your reputation and the thinking you've shown them early on. Then it's a partnership to produce the work and it's likely to happen."

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