Should I give up on them or offer them another chance to come back with a better pitch?
In asking this question, you achieve a remarkable double. You reveal yourself to be both silly and sensible. Congratulations.
Imagine what the agency business would have been like, as it gradually emerged some 150 years ago, if a universal convention had been accepted by both agencies and clients from the very beginning. Because it was America that was leading the way, the convention would have been called One Strike and You’re Out! – and what it would have meant in practice is this.
The appointed agency would be given just one opportunity to present its creative and media proposals. If the proposals were found satisfactory, the agency could continue. But if the proposals were not to the client’s liking, there could be no constructive discussion and no second chance. The agency would be fired and replaced by another.
There are a great many reasons why such a convention was never adopted, nor even suggested – most of them too obvious to spell out. But let me spell out one.
Case histories of dazzlingly effective creative work perfectly conceived by an agency working in isolation-ward conditions are rare. However pure and perfect they may seem when they’re finally aired, and however much the account of their birth is tidied up for later lying, most of the work we’ve all most admired has been the result of muddle, false starts, client interventions, good fortune… and time. The work presented at that first meeting is almost never, down to the last detail, the work that finally hits the public.
Had One Strike and You’re Out! been strictly applied, most of the work that’s been awarded the highest honours over the past 150 years would never have been born, let alone reached a jury.
It takes but a second to realise that One Strike and You’re Out! would have been an absurd, unnecessary and highly counterproductive convention to impose on both clients and agencies. And yet, when it comes to competitive, speculative new-business presentations, guess what rules? One Strike and You’re Out!.
The dilemma you face, I’m sorry to have to tell you, is entirely of your making. If you’d trusted your own judgment, you’d have identified the agency you liked best and worked with them openly until you jointly fumbled your way to an outcome that pleased you all.
And you can still do that, of course, which is what you mean by giving your preferred agency – and only your preferred agency – a second chance. But do that, and the utterly justified rage of the other agencies will be uncontained. You will have encouraged them to believe it was to be a fair fight, and so to spend countless man hours, precious reserves of inventiveness and hundreds of thousands of pounds (which might otherwise have usefully augmented that threadbare Christmas bonus) – while all the time you had a favourite and were perfectly prepared to change the rules in order to see that your favourite won. In a market where supply and demand were more equitably balanced, a confident agency would call in their lawyers and take you and your company, very publicly, to the cleaners.
Your sense lies in knowing that the best way to get good work out of agencies is to work with them over time. Your silliness lies in not doing it.
I’m a humble chief marketing officer who’s seen some of my peers rise to the new role of chief customer officer. Do you think the emergence of this role is good news for the marketing profession?
Marketing, at its best, is one of the world’s most fundamental, skilful and beneficial professions to practise. You need to know about everything, including human nature. Both sides of the brain need to be fully engaged. Its success keeps authoritarianism at bay.
But sometimes it seems to border on the trivial and the superficial: more cosmetician than engineer. Engineers don’t seem to feel the need to keep tampering with their titles simply to keep their spirits up. If you really are the chief marketing officer, you’re already the most important person in your company.