It's not how long a media pitch is, it's who you do it with

So Saga finally appointed a media agency. A process so protracted it became something of a saga in itself. It seems that agencies now have to possess Odysseus-like levels of stamina to survive some of the epic timeframes imposed in recent pitches, writes Ian Darby.

In the days of Homer's hero, the valiant did stuff such as winning battles and surviving shipwrecks. Today, they battle the guys in procurement.

Saga took more than six months to decide to keep its account at Mediaedge:CIA. It would doubtless argue that in deliberating for so long it reached the right decision, while improving the value delivered by its agency. This ignores the sheer amount of time invested by all pitching agencies when really they had better things to do. "A clear case of a client with too much time on their hands," one well-placed observer said.

Perhaps. But Saga is not the only advertiser whose pitch process came to resemble a game of chess played through the post by a pair of estranged grandmasters. In no particular order, British Gas, Transport for London and Sony have all taken an age with their media pitch processes. In Sony's case, you might argue that there are complexities relating to international markets and indecision over whether to consolidate into one international network. But this is symptomatic of a lack of vision on the advertiser's side.

So why are pitches taking so long? While it is always true that some clients are self-indulgent and have little else to do, these Regency fops are in the minority. The biggest single reason seems to be that there are more people involved in the decision-making process.

Gone are the days when a marketing director or head of media sticks his or her neck out because they like an agency or a bit of thinking it has produced. Now their shortlist is scrutinised by a batch of procurement specialists. Fine. Clients want to be sure they are getting good value, but then the actions of some, who late in the day bring in a media auditor to help in the process, would indicate that they don't know where to look for this value.

So the process becomes overly complex and the auditors have a field day -- unlike the agencies, who in the main receive no remuneration for the countless meetings and question-answering that they are put through.

There might be a silver lining though. One agency suggested that pitches have become more complex because advertisers are genuinely interested in talking to agencies about services above and beyond media buying. But this is not the majority view. Most realise they are being played-off against one another to deliver a few pounds of savings in a media schedule.

All of which brings us to the fundamental point. That advertisers, as well as agencies, need to behave with more imagination, guile and flexibility if their activity is to be successful. It is these virtues that drive true value.

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