Clients riding roughshod over pitch guidelines are occupational
hazards most agencies endure in silent rage.
So it's both refreshing and depressing that Miles Calcraft Briginshaw
Duffy has gone public over its treatment by Ellesse, the sportswear
company, to win greater protection for agencies forced to pay a heavy
price when a pitch is aborted.
Refreshing, because ad people are usually reluctant to speak out for
fear of getting a reputation for whinging and being turned into pariahs
in a massively over-supplied market. Depressing, because it indicates
that the much-vaunted pitch guidelines agreed by the IPA and ISBA have
not yet stemmed a stream of agency contests that have proved a waste of
everybody's time and money. Hackett, the upmarket clothes brand, and
Brita, the water filter company, are among those that stand accused.
Adequate financial compensation for agencies when a pitch is abandoned
is a loophole in the guidelines which needs plugging. Agencies should
risk some of their own money in the pursuit of new business, but
Ellesse's offer of pounds 5,000 to each of its finalists is unrealistic
- an agency may spend that in the first few days.
A decent 'kill fee' may be of little consequence to global agency
networks with substantial new-business budgets. But it may be crucial to
a start-up whose thirst for new business leaves it vulnerable to
exploitation and whose partners have put their houses on the line.
So what can be done to stop pitch fiascos? First, there must be more
straight-talking from the outset. Ellesse has indicated that it would
only appoint an agency whose work was better than its in-house. Miles
Calcraft says that if it had known this, it wouldn't have pitched.
Second, agencies must not be reluctant to discuss money at the earliest
stage. It's an odd contradiction that advertising, so upfront about most
things, gives free consultancy advice and a licence to steal its
Third, there needs to be more naming and shaming of the serial offenders
of the client community. Maybe the IPA could help by posting on its
website the pitch histories of advertisers currently reviewing their
Campaign has been called countless times by agencies with shameful
stories of shabby treatment by client prospects. But when challenged to
speak out in print their nerve fails them.
Until the industry finds its backbone, it can have few complaints if
some clients continue to screw it.