Pitches mean more sex but fewer relationships
A view from Claire Beale

Pitches mean more sex but fewer relationships

A good agency in pitch-fight mode is a wonderful thing to observe. Every predictable groan about late nights, weekend working, even cancelled holidays, barely conceals the shaky, addictive adrenaline high that comes with straining together to win.

"And there’s definitely more sex between colleagues when we’ve got a pitch on," an agency chief executive says.

Pitches get our blood pumping too: tasty editorial meat for months to come. Good news, then, that account reviews reached a ten-year high in 2014, with a 16 per cent increase in ad pitches, according to AAR (see right). More sex for you and more good stories for us then.

Except that there’s a flip side. Pitches happen because the incumbent hasn’t delivered, or a new marketing chief arrives, or the client wants to save money – or time (integrated pitches are way up).

Whatever the reason, more pitches generally means fewer long-term partnerships between agencies and clients. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem because, as Nick Kendall points out on page 26, short-termism is undermining the ability of agencies to make a real contribution to balance-sheet brand value over time. Kendall argues that market forces mean agencies are focusing too much on today and not enough on next year: "We are being pulled away from our core, added-value role as partners – building brands and ideas for the long run."

Always-on, 24/7 working to feed the ever-hungry digital beast has made short-term thinking an acute necessity, and too often there is not enough resource, money or energy left for long-term planning.

No matter how good a pitch can be, it's all only really worthwhile if account wins result in long-term fruitful collaborations

Compound the problem with the too-brief tenure of so many CMOs ("leading to stop-start management and discontinuities," Kendall points out) and the fact that, over the past few decades, the average length of a client/agency relationship has fallen from more than seven years to two-and-a-half years, and you’re in danger of a classic vicious circle. Agencies don’t get the chance to build properly effective partnerships with clients, so relationships become less productive and more dispensable, so pitches become more frequent and agencies don’t get the chance to build properly effective partnerships. The market becomes more and more commoditised and price becomes more important in the decision process.

No matter how good a pitch can be for team bonding, crystalising thoughts, boosting confidence, relieving physical tensions, it’s all only really worthwhile if account wins result in long-term, fruitful collaborations between brand and agency. Only from that sort of solid foundation can the best agencies build approaches that successfully combine thrilling short-term tactics with thoughtful, effective long-term strategy.