It's not pitches but people that count in the media arena

The worst media agency presentation I ever went to was conducted by Universal McCann in a darkened room. It lasted for well over two hours, included a whirl of spurious technical terms, whizzy brand names for utterly dull research tools and chart after chart of lines criss-crossing each other with gay abandon, writes Claire Beale.

The agency had thoughtfully provided a couple of ashtrays of peanuts and several large bottles of rough red wine. Coming as it did after a long hard day, it's no wonder that the wine proved most popular, not least as an all-too temporary anaesthetic. And inevitably the end result was a room full of wobbly journalists whose shell-shocked appearance was only partially due to two hours of solid drinking.

For a long time I thought we were simply the victims of over-worked agencies for whom presenting to the press was a necessary evil. Clients with money to spend, I thought, would at least be treated to a punchy, pithy and provocative presentation after many hours (or days, if it was a pitch) of careful honing and judicious editing.

Of course, this is far from the case. Few agencies manage to spare the clients when it comes to showing off their wares, sweetly ignorant that their presentation is virtually the same as the next agency's. The truth is that most agencies are truly terrible when it comes to selling themselves.

For starters there is pretty much nothing unique that any agency can show you in even two hours of solid presenting. All the clever ideas, all the expensive research tools, all the solid buying credentials are almost word for word what the agency next door will present. Your smart-arse cross-media, cross-discipline strategic ruse for XYZ brand has already been done by every other agency in town and you've probably already ripped it off for several of your other clients anyway.

All of which raises the question of how an agency such as MediaCom -- on the face of it one of the blandest agencies in town -- has managed to break free from this stultifying routine and consistently impress the choicest clients. For starters, MediaCom has clearly decided to rewrite some of the rules of pitching by being, well, a bit creative in its presentations. So there was roller-skating for the Wrigley's pitch and pitching in a pub, better than a couple of pie-charts and a tepid cup of coffee any day and not so much gimmicky as interestingly different (at least until every other agency in town catches on).

But beneath such unsung flair lies the simple truism that the only really different thing about any agency is the people in it. It might not be popular to say it, but MediaCom's people are clearly something special -- a strong, capable and, crucially, likeable team.

As anyone who has sat through a media agency presentation or two will tell you, such things really do matter more than how big your tools are.

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