Are agencies addicted to pitching?

The time when you could get high just by walking into the gents at the Grosvenor House on an awards night may have long passed. But Laurence Green believes adland has acquired an addiction that is no less expensive or injurious to its long-term health: pitching. Or, as the Fallon London founder now in charge of 101 put it: "Our industry’s crack cocaine."

Writing in Campaign last week, he acknowledged the day the industry goes "cold turkey" may be far away. But he suggested it could do more to wean itself off pitching by thinking more about doing what it does well and less about the headlong chase for new business. This, he believes, would allow like-minded agencies and clients to find each other without time-consuming and costly pitches. And he would like to see more accounts move without a pitch, such as Tesco’s switch to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

But will the day ever dawn when the industry is "clean"? Or will the corporate governance rules preventing marketing directors appointing agencies without a pitch – and agencies’ love of the rush that pitches provoke – make the habit impossible to kick?

Agency head

Ben Fennell, chief executive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"If you are pitching more than eight or ten times a year, then you are pitching too much because your main focus should always be on your existing clients. And I would love not to have to do speculative, proactive and unpaid pitches to win new business or have clients playing agencies off against each other to drive down fees. That said, pitches spark new thinking and allow new talent to flourish. The buzz of a special pitch creates the biggest highs in an agency’s life. It’s only when agencies are abused by clients or demean themselves that the business becomes commoditised."


Kerry Glazer, chief executive, AAR

"Years ago, I thought pitches were wasteful and expensive and that there had to be a better way. But, rightly or wrongly, pitching is endemic in our culture and success at new business remains a major factor in how agencies are judged. However, agencies are becoming far more selective in what they will pitch for because they don’t have the resource to take on more than one pitch at a time. Tesco and BBH came together because of existing relationships between key people on both sides. But what about clients not in that situation? Even if you don’t hold a pitch, there has to be some process for comparing and contrasting agencies."

Agency head

James Murphy, chief executive, Adam & Eve/DDB

"Although we had a three-month moratorium on pitching last year, the fact is that pitches are good for agencies. They keep us vital and energised because we are staffed by competitive people who love the process and want to show their muscle. However, it’s important that you choose your targets carefully, that you don’t behave like a bunch of headless chickens and that you only go for business that genuinely excites you. We have to accept that there will be more pitches because of the pressures of corporate governance on clients. But we shouldn’t go anywhere near those simply looking to drive down prices."

Agency head

Annette King, chief executive, Ogilvy & Mather Group UK

"Agencies aren’t addicted to pitching but we need to be more brave and confident about saying what we will pitch for, and very clear about our positioning. We have to be asking if what we are pitching for will allow us to do great work and if it is likely to lead to a long-lasting relationship. In the end, it’s better that we convert one good pitch rather than trying to do too many. But, while it would be good to see fewer pitches and greater efforts to make existing relationships work, there is huge pressure on clients from procurement to get the best possible deal."