Is the 'pure' advertising pitch doomed?

In a communications world that has become increasingly multi-channelled and complex, are agencies witnessing the slow but sure decline of the advertising-only pitch? That there has been a slow reduction in the number of such contests in recent years is beyond question.

AAR research suggests that, since 2005, when there was a 3 per cent year-on-year drop, the downward spiral has continued. A notable exception was 2013, when a 2 per cent increase was recorded.

However, that revival has not extended into 2014, with AAR reporting a 16.5 per cent decline for the first two quarters of this year. Whether that decline is also a sure one is an open question. Many agency bosses believe the downward trend is irreversible as most clients look for communications solutions that can work across a multitude of channels.

While acknowledging that the number of ad pitches will never return to previous heady levels, AAR executives argue that further decline isn’t inevitable. They suggest the figures may be partly a hangover from the recession and that creative pitches are becoming fewer as agencies broaden and deepen what they do for existing clients.


Martin Jones, managing partner, AAR

"The number of advertising pitches will never return to the levels of a few years ago, but my gut feeling is that we hit the bottom last year. There are still a lot of clients who believe ‘pure’ advertising constitutes an important part of their business and that the relationship with their creative agency is key. When there was plenty of new business around, agencies often faced reviews by existing clients who felt neglected. Today, agencies have got much better at looking after what they’ve got. Also, it’s not like the old days when clients were always on the lookout for something better."

Agency head

Katie Lee, managing director, Leo Burnett; joint chair, New Business and Marketing Group, IPA

"Pitches are no longer just about ‘pure’ advertising, just as they are no longer about ‘pure’ digital or ‘pure’ integrated. You can’t separate them any more. The last time we did an advertising-only pitch was when we won The Co-operative Group in 2012. But we also now handle such things as shopper marketing and digital for them. Today, we never do an ad pitch that doesn’t have a digital element. Agencies say they can offer things like CRM and content, but not many have strong supporting case studies. That’s not necessarily their fault because some clients still have siloed structures."


David Wethey, chairman, Agency Assessments International

"A 16.5 per cent drop in the number of advertising pitches represents a significant decline that will carry on. These days, there is hardly a brief that doesn’t have a digital component or that doesn’t require some degree of specialism. Agencies generally have adapted to what is happening. While those owned by holding companies will always go after new business like hell in order to hit the numbers, there is much more emphasis on organic growth, which is easier to get, doesn’t involve large pitch costs and means your people don’t have to adapt to a completely new client culture. Fewer pitches certainly doesn’t mean a bleaker future for agencies."

Agency head

Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Havas Worldwide London

"The number of advertising-only pitches is declining and I expect it to continue doing so. I don’t think I’ve seen an advertising-only brief in the last two years. Clients are increasingly looking at a lot of communication channels. They want solutions that can work across those channels. Nobody thinks in terms of just a TV campaign any more. They want strong integrated campaigns – and they want our help in bringing them to life. The best agencies are those that can deliver against those demands. But there are some that are still trapped within traditional structures."