Should agencies refuse to pitch over the Christmas period?

Christmas is the season of goodwill to everyone, with the exception of agencies, who must work around the clock to meet the demand of that last-minute brief or client emergency.

Should agencies refuse to pitch over the Christmas period?

All I want for Christmas is a 132-page RFI document, said no new business director ever.

After a year that has delivered Brexit, Bitcoin and burnout hype in equal measure there is little surprise that agencies have been jittery over new business prospects. Advertising is an ecosystem in which means agencies are loathe to say no to the inevitable last-minute brief in the run-up to Christmas. 

Yet when you are expected to put your life on hold over and over again something has to give

It is a state of play  that when combined with the glut of client entertaining, means that red-rimmed eyes and Christmas colds are the festive accessory of choice among new business and client service teams. It may well be "PR not ER" but the ‘festive emergency’ is as much as part of the season as the John Lewis Christmas ad.

There is an important point here, too. No one works their contracted hours in advertising. The all-night pitch process has become something of a perverse badge of honour.

Yet when you are expected to put your life on hold over and over again something has to give.

"The work" may well be the pinnacle of the advertising profession and winning the brief to produce that work is an all-encompassing pursuit. But when it is one that demands that you put your employees through the mill over and over again it is both right and necessary to challenge the status quo.

A working environment which demands a life lived here but elsewhere, with one hand hovering on the smartphone and a mind racing from one thing to the next denies employees the opportunity to look up and live.

As an industry we are guilty of being extravagant with each other’s time. From pitching for non-existent business to the industry leaders who fail to see the disconnect between lamenting the lack of women in leadership while berating their junior staff for not wanting to spend night after night away from their families. When the work is all-encompassing the risk is your life becomes more about the things you missed. At Christmas, making time for those we love is sacrosanct

With this in mind, should agencies refuse to pitch over the Christmas period?

Larissa Vince

Chief growth officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London

Of course, clients shouldn't ask agencies to pitch over Christmas in the first place. And in my experience, once you (respectfully) point out that a large team of people will have to work over the holiday, most clients will revise their timings. The ones that don't, you're better off without.

There's no excuse, though, for agencies who agree to pitch over Christmas. If you do, you're saying you care more about new business than your people. You're saying you'll do whatever the client wants, however unreasonable. And if you start a client relationship like that, then even if you win, you lose.

Tony Holdway

Sales and marketing director, Domino’s Pizza Group

There's almost a mini-power play at work when you brief an agency pre-crimble, knowing that they'll then have to work through the seasonal break to meet your response deadline. One upmanship. "I can brief you now because I can." Surely your brand deserves the best possible response to a brief of any scale. Is that really going to be achieved through actions of this ilk? Privately, you'll then have people working on your brand knowing that they really don't want to be there. As such, it's not a course of action I subscribe to. Happy Christmas!

Jemima Monies

Head of new business and PR, Adam & Eve/DDB

Yes. Agencies might have client work that sees them working over Christmas but generally it's time for everyone to clear their heads. More mince pies, less RFIs. Agencies thrive on pitching and as soon as they catch sight of the brief will jump straight in, even if the meeting is a few weeks into January. It’s much harder for a hungry start-up or an agency who hasn’t had a good new business year to say no, but clients that wait until January are much more likely to get better creative work from a rested and rejuvenated team.

Martin Jones

Managing partner, AAR

Agencies are undoubtedly becoming more selective over what they pitch for, doubly so at this time of year, as the need for a break invariably outweighs any financial incentive.

Clients demanding that agencies "prove their commitment" by pitching over the festive period are now a rarity, although there will always be exceptional circumstances whereby it is an unfortunate necessity.

How a client acts during the pitch process is always a good guide as to what they would be like to work with.

So, if you are asked to pitch over Christmas, just beware... you may end up winning and regretting it.

Tracey Barber

Group chief marketing officer, Havas UK

New business is demanding, and takes time and effort to do brilliantly. I think it’s important to give people a break – time to breathe, recharge and de-stress – and Christmas is that one sacrosanct time of year. So, unless faced with an urgent or unexpected business change, I think clients should avoid calling pitches over Christmas, not least to treat agencies as they do their own teams. In turn, we need to respect our own people and stand firm, doing what we can to protect them and ring fence their holiday time – and, equally, to ensure that any new business opportunity we participate in begins with partnership and mutual respect.

Diana Tickell

Chief executive, NABS

Yes. But I know that is easier said than done. Agencies should have the confidence to push back against what is in fact poor client behaviour. At NABS we know that excessive pressure to hit unreasonable deadlines shuts down creativity. Better results are achieved when wellbeing is higher up the agenda.

As a client, I know that we sometimes get things wrong. We can let our own workload management or other internal pressures push our promised briefing dates back and we can fail to extend deadlines. And somehow, Christmas can always manage to take us by surprise. However, if you are genuinely in the do, agencies will go miles to help you. But if we clients repeatedly brief late and disregard the impact on our agency’s people, particularly over the festive season, then we are not being kind or generous to our agencies and we will only get the work we deserve.

Stephanie Brimacombe  

Group chief marketing officer, VCCP

It depends on the circumstances of every individual agency and it’s very easy to be principled when financially everything is looking rosy but sometimes you don’t have a choice. I do think as an industry it would do us no harm to play a bit harder to get sometimes and say no when timings are completely unreasonable. At the risk of sounding cheesy we should ALL remember the most important things about the Christmas period – family and friends.

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