Media: Russell Davies

As we all sit back and watch the slow decline of traditional British advertising, I think it behoves us to remember what that splendid old world was really good at, as well as all the stupid things it's doing now.

And I suspect the pinnacle of achievement, the core skill developed in adland UK in the past 50 years, is something that doesn't get written up in case studies and IPA papers that much - it's the art of the new-business pitch.

I'm reminded of this because WPP's shadowy man of planning genius, Jon Steel, has just written a book about it - Perfect Pitch. (It's brilliant. You can get it at Amazon and some good book shops.) Because he spent so much of his career at Goodby Silverstein in San Francisco, Jon's not as well known in Britain as he should be, but he's the acknowledged master of new business, and he learned it all in dear old Blighty. (Well, some of it.)

I bet there's no industry that pitches as well as British advertising. The oversupply of agencies, the frequency with which accounts move and the high stakes when they do move, make it an intense, febrile hot-house for the rapid evolution of pitching genius. Every new trick and technique is tried, analysed, discussed and used by everyone else within a week of it winning a bit of billing.

You talk to people in any related industry - publishing, TV, movies, architecture, design - and they're astonished by the time and effort we pour into new business. The average TV pitch is an easily remembered sentence describing the premise of the programme; a movie pitch is a quick concept tied to a complex financing and personnel proposal; a book is a few thousands words and a cheap lunch.

But an ad pitch is a multimedia extravaganza of PowerPoint, poly-board and persuasion. It involves weeks of intense work by highly paid people (most of it never getting into the final meeting), endless late nights, neglected children's birthday parties and, of course, months of pursuit and preparation by new- business directors - the dark wizards of business development.

And maybe in a few years we'll look back at the London Olympic bid as the zenith of British pitching skills. London had clearly learned all the lessons - they appealed to the heart, not the head; they made the bid about the audience, not themselves; and they wheeled in Mr Beckham, a couple of royals and dozens of cute kids, which must be the Olympic equivalent of sticking a car in reception.

- Russell Davies is a founder of The Open Intelligence Agency.

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