Editorial: Adland at the beck and call of cautious clients

Excessive caution is the inevitable by-product of recession. So nobody should be surprised that those multimillion-pound pitches currently being contested seem to be taking an eternity to resolve.

B&Q has taken five months to whittle down the shortlist of agencies vying for its £40 million account from six to four; the Army pitch is very much at the stand easy stage, with no appointment expected until 2011. Meanwhile, there's no light at the end of the passage in Eurotunnel's search for an agency, which began in January.

No wonder agencies get frustrated at how long it is taking to even get on to a longlist, let alone present their ideas. Gone are the days when new business was a frenzied free-for-all. Today, it's much more about showing patience and understanding with prospects.

For one thing, there's less new business around - the AAR estimates that the number of accounts up for pitch has dropped more than 20 per cent this year. For another, the current climate is fuelling a risk-averse culture among clients. Those pitches that are called are invariably the result of much heart-searching. And even when the starting gun is fired, there's no headlong race to the finishing line.

The reasons for this are many and varied. Marketing directors who once saw the successful masterminding of a pitch as a passport to promotion are now much more fearful of paying for a failed one with their jobs. And there's always the worry that a pitch may be interpreted as a distress signal by commercial rivals. What's more, pitches are no longer the marketing director's exclusive preserve. Their outcome can determine whether a company flourishes or founders. The stakes are so high that they're now everybody's business, from the company chairman downwards.

If there's any consolation to be drawn by agencies, it's that while there's significantly less business up for grabs, almost all of it is genuine. The time-wasters have disappeared.