Charlie Carpenter: the managing director at Creativebrief
Charlie Carpenter: the managing director at Creativebrief
A view from Charlie Carpenter

Quit 'the pitch' as we know it

Creativebrief's managing director wonders whether the industry is ready to wave goodbye to "the pitch".

The AAR’s latest New Business Pulse shows the number of pitches dropped in the first half of 2016 by nearly 12%. Well halle-bloody-lujah.

"What an odd reaction to bad news", I hear many of you ponder loudly to yourselves.

And sure enough the vast majority of agency leaders read these findings with heavy hearts and a rising fear that the post-Brexit market is readying itself for an inexorable tumble back into the doldrums.

But for an industry that has claimed to want to rid itself of "the pitch" for as long as any of us can remember, personally I think their reaction is the stranger one.

Let’s for a minute look at this with an altogether more optimistic hat on, eh? Let’s assume as much business is changing hands as ever, just not through "the pitch" as we know it.

My hypothesis: the numbers are simply evidence of the fact that (finally) with widespread technology and myriad freer intelligence at their fingertips, clients are better informed than ever about the best work and the agencies behind it.

That would be a mighty shock to us all wouldn’t it? A new generation of hyper-connected and wisened clients bold enough to decide alone which agencies to meet, and with little desire to run a long and arduous pitch.

Armed instead with the confidence that comes with greater knowledge, and a steely resolve to make faster decisions about who to work with.

Err, no. It bloody-well shouldn’t be a shock. Not unless you’re living in a parallel universe. So, the industry’s immediate response to the AAR’s findings is disconcerting to me. Verging on uncomfortable actually.

In fact, it’s indicative of the excruciating contradictions that abound in an industry with a supposedly collective desire to find a streamlined alternative to pitching.

At every turn the pallid conservatism of the establishment is preventing progress, seemingly (and quite astonishingly) without even really knowing it. Industry bodies persist in issuing didactic edicts to clients about pitches, while tacitly acknowledging they have little practical impact.

Intermediaries hold endless events about how to improve the pitch, which result in miniscule changes that do little but preserve the status quo (and the revenue they generate from pitches).

Industry bodies persist in issuing didactic edicts to clients about pitches, while tacitly acknowledging they have little practical impact.

Even agencies, curiously conflicted, demonstrate themselves daily to be depressingly conditioned and institutionalised.

Still judging new business performance on number of pitches, and still congratulating themselves for participation regardless of outcome.

Still advising clients to invest in building awareness and differentiation rather than chasing immediate acquisition, yet still resolutely failing to heed their own advice.

Still pronouncing the pitch as unfit for contemporary times, while simultaneously expressing concern about the intensity ebbing from agency life without it.

In fact, still using the term "pitch" too liberally with clients altogether, thereby perpetuating the cycle. Imagine the impact of an act as simple as us all wiping the term "pitch" from industry vernacular (something we have done just this week at Creativebrief by the way).

Worryingly though, industry-wide there seems to be a strangely deep-rooted aversion to change that we all unwittingly preserve every single day.

But now is the time to hold a mirror up to our collective selves if we truly want to make a difference in a way that we have so fundamentally failed to do in the last 15 years.

So let’s embrace these early signs of change, then think even bigger to drive smarter, leaner and faster ways to bring together buyers and sellers in our industry.

Let’s learn from the likes of Uber, Airbnb and others who have harnessed technology to help their markets adapt quickly to a new world order, rather than decaying in the past.

But please, I implore us all, let’s not read the tealeaves wrong and screw it up now.

Or, if in fact after all this time you have decided that change is not for you – then next time, be careful what you wish for.

Charlie Carpenter is the managing director at Creativebrief.