There are so many pitch consultants around that you need a consultant to advise you about which consultancy you should appoint.
Perhaps this is a service that the latest market entrant, Agency Review Business, could offer as a hybrid spin-off service, since ARB is itself a bit of a hybrid business. Its founding directors are Ian Fairbrother, Brian Jacobs and Charlie Thelu and it will function as a standalone business bringing together the skillsets of the individual companies they represent.
Fairbrother is the managing director of the media auditing company Fairbrother Lenz Eley; Jacobs is the managing director of the media strategy consultancy Brian Jacobs & Associates; Thelu, a former head of procurement at EMI, is now the boss of Purchex, a procurement and contract negotiation specialist. Their companies will continue to have an independent and parallel existence.
ARB is designed as a "one-stop pitch consultancy", with the aim of helping clients through the process of reviewing and selecting an effective media agency partner.
Last week, a number of rival companies were moved to welcome the new kid on the block with faint praise, adding that ARB's confederated structure might be seen, by some, to be potentially fragile.
We'll see. But no-one is denying the fact that there's a real depth of experience at work here.
1. Big pitches will always be with us, especially when the big corporations are coming round to the view they should put all of their supplier relationships up for review every three years. So pitch consultancy is a competitive world, and the established players can offer well-resourced operations with international networks to mirror those of the clients they seek to serve. If a smaller organisation is to prosper, it will have to find a unique selling proposition.
2. In all reviews and pitches, although client/agency chemistry and innovative thinking are important, the main determinant has been price. That tends to be measured by the media auditing companies, the largest of which was Media Audits, which was acquired by the management consultancy group Accenture in November 2005; and Billetts, which was bought by Thomson Intermedia in August 2005. Accenture Marketing Sciences Worldwide is led by Jeffrey Merrihue, the former chief executive of Initiative Media Europe.
3. Thomson Intermedia has also been beefing up its management. Back in October 2007, it unveiled a pair of newly hired executives: Michael Greenlees, who was one of the founders of Gold Greenlees Trott, before moving on to become chief executive of TBWA\Worldwide; and Nick Manning, formerly the UK chief executive of OMD. In January, it stole one of their rival's biggest hitters, Martin Sambrook. A global account director at Accenture, he has joined Billetts as a managing partner of its global division.
4. Fairbrother Lenz Eley, the media auditor component of ARB, makes the claim that it is the largest independent media auditing company in the world. It enjoys a global reach through a network of partner agencies.
5. Effective Media Management, led by Stephen White, a former director at Aegis, markets itself as a broad-based consultancy, offering media auditing on an international basis (however, its focus is Europe) plus media agency selection and pitch management.
6. As well as the AAR, whose media consultancy service is headed by Paul Phillips, a largely UK perspective is also provided by ISBA, which offers its members advice on managing agency relationships, handling the pitch process and structuring contracts. This is overseen by ISBA's director of consultancy and best practice, Debbie Morrison.
7. Media agency search and selection services are also offered by the likes of Agency Assessments International and Agency Insight. Agency Insight claims to be "Europe's leading provider of independent advice for advertisers" across all marketing disciplines. Agency Assessments International says it is "one of the world's leading specialised management consultants to the advertising communications industry". Pitch consultancies with a non-auditing background tend to focus on helping advertisers find the right media agency culture for their needs.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
THE PITCH CONSULTANCY BUSINESS
- To a casual observer, the pitch consultancy market seems terribly overcrowded these days. On the other hand, recent years have seen an astonishing collapse at the big client organisations when it comes to expertise in managing media agency relationships.
- This, some say, is largely down to the unequal influence exercised by procurement people. These are people who know the price of everything (as such they have built mutually beneficial relationships with the media auditing companies), but are rather more hazy when it comes to notions of value. And they can be at sea when it comes to big transformational issues such as addressing the digital revolution or embracing comms planning.
- So, arguably, there will be an increasing role out there for advisors who can show they can take clients beyond the mere counting of beans. And ARB's particular strength is the fact that it intends to offer a strategic communications perspective.
As one observer puts it: "Advertisers that are over-reliant on auditors and benchmarking sometimes find it difficult to begin looking for agents of change."
- From a client point of view, there's an embarrassment of riches in this sector. So it's ostensibly a buyers' market. But every client is different. And the real benefit of competition in this sector is the likelihood that an advertiser will be able to find the advisor with just the right blend of expertise.