CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: Don’t overlook the pitch as the test of brains and beauty

’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.

’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

streaks.



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

works.



Will FCB top TBWA’s Nat- West win? Will Ammirati Puris Lintas snare

BT?



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.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com.



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