’I would like my agencies to expend 99 per cent of their efforts on
existing clients. If I could stop everyone from pitching for new
business I would.’ So says Shelly Lazarus, the chief executive of Ogilvy
& Mather Worldwide, in this week’s ’Queen of Madison Avenue’ feature
(p24). In theory, Lazarus is right and simple maths tells the story.
Five agencies participate in a competitive pitch. One wins.
Four lose. Champagne and celebration for one, bitterness and beery vows
of resignation for four.
During a pitch, the agency’s collective creative spirit is buzzing in
pursuit of the new client. Current accounts, an agency’s commercial
lifeblood, languish on the back-burner.
Group heads resolve to win that new client and develop nasty competitive
And pitches are expensive, even if the client makes a contribution. A
chief executive once told me that if a client puts in pounds 5,000, the
agency simply spends pounds 5,000 more than it had planned to. What’s
more, only a fraction of the creative work shown at a pitch ever sees
the light of day as advertising, so you could argue that pitching is a
deeply wasteful process too.
So is Lazarus right? Like all theories, hers is liable to come unstuck
in practice. This is because pitches are an end in themselves, not part
of some greater plan.
For a new agency, such as Fallon McElligott in the UK, the choice of and
performance in the first dozen or so competitive pitches will dictate
its survival prospects. Such agencies have a desire to break the mould,
even good moulds.
New management line-ups pray for an early win to prove the medicine
Will FCB top TBWA’s Nat- West win? Will Ammirati Puris Lintas snare
Winning a pitch contributes hugely to an established agency’s feelgood
factor: nothing boosted O&M Worldwide more than its retrieval of
American Express in 1992 and its subsequent win of IBM. The IBM coup -
that’s another great thing about pitches, they allow journalists to
indulge in the colourful language of scoops and shoot-outs - also
illustrates how pitches allow agencies to enter new categories.
Inevitably, there have been mutterings about replacing pitches with
relationship matching and other dodgy mating rituals, but they carry
little chance of success. In fact, the EU law on mandatory competitive
tendering for public contracts above a certain value indicates that the
pitch has a colourful and controversial future to look forward to.
Admit it, you’re all wondering who’ll be the agency to give AMV a bloody
nose in the BT pitches. Cash and flash aside, such hand-to-hand combat
is surely what makes the advertising business so fascinating for all who
work in and around it.
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