A Change in Pitch: Dropping the act



The subject of the pitch has been raging on for so long, it’s easy to forget what the true aim of the process is at times. Finding the right partner can be overshadowed by the endless rigmarole and hoops both parties (more often agencies) are made to leap through.

One of the biggest factors muddying the water is the artificiality. The pitch process, with its stress on winning business in the room plays into the hands of performance. Surely an unwelcome side effect of a process that aims at forging a genuine relationship capable of standing the test of time.

At our Creativebrief Explores event on the 24th April, our panellists Alex Naylor (Marketing Director at Barclaycard), Gareth Collins (CEO at Leo Burnett London) and Fergus Hay (CEO at Leagas Delaney) took aim at the theatrics early on in the conversation. With Alex saying how “the artificiality of the process is a problem.”

But how to do away with the dramatics, without getting rid of the power of ideas in the room?

Gareth Collins said how the buzz and the adrenaline, even the things you learn about your own agency, are all things he loves about pitching. But he made clear how we present work and how far we take ourselves into pitches needs to be questioned.

“It’s really easy to get carried away in a pitch and try and present absolutely everything,” he said, joking how without boundaries you’d eventually end up planning ads for the underside of manhole covers. But with such a stress on the theatre of a pitch, it’s understandable how some agencies throw everything into their performance.

This is one way the artifice can be exacerbated. The other is in who’s doing the pitching.

When a process favours the client sitting back and waiting to be dazzled, it means the people going along from the agency will inevitably be confident in presenting and able to leave a lasting impression.

But as Fergus Hay of Leagas Delaney said, “building a brand over time is about substance, not showmen.” His concern about the artificiality of the process is that it “attracts extroverts and doesn’t play to introverts at all.”

He continued:

The really thoughtful people, the people who are really getting to grips of what a brand needs and a consumer needs tend to be those who are more introverted. And the stage is not set for them. As an industry it means we get attracted to the dazzle and not the substance.

Fergus Hay, CEO at Leagas Delaney

Much like Gareth, Fergus had some positive things to say about the pitch. It’s not without its value. But it’s clear that work must be done to ensure substance supersedes artificiality.

Thinking about how we can humanise the process will help this. Gareth said how humanisation offered a suitable solution to a process too often manufactured and architected.

Anything that can create a greater connection between people has got to be a good thing. It’ll get to a truer selection of the right partners.

Gareth Collins, CEO at Leo Burnett London

To do this though requires brands being prepared to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in the same as agencies. It bears repeating that if the pitch is to change, it needs to be tackled with equal effort and investment from all parties.

Alex Naylor of Barclaycard supported finding a more humanised search process. He said how brands “want to know the people you might actually have working with you, versus the agency’s book and reputation.”

Getting to know the people holds a huge amount of value for both the brand and agency. Two great options to accomplish this are a workshop and/or a dinner. Alex Naylor offered his view that “workshops have a real impact. You do get a more visceral feel of how the interaction will work. You do see the chemistry – the chemistry between individuals within the agency. You start to get much more of an inkling of what the actual process will be like.”

Whether it is a workshop followed by a dinner, or something as casual as a coffee, for Fergus Hay:

The most important thing is to get intimate.

Fergus Hay, CEO at Leagas Delaney

He did however warn of the danger in “developing a mechanic that we try and force on every situation.”

As we’ve said elsewhere, keeping it bespoke is key. The brand has to work with someone in the know to discern how they can truly get to know the agencies, and under what conditions those agencies can be at their best. All with intimacy, and not artifice.

Stripping away the theatrics and dropping the act can mean clearer communication between both parties and is the ideal starting point for not just the process but the eventual relationship and work. It’s not about doing away with the energy that agencies value so much. It’s about finding a different conduit for it – one that invites the client to participate far more and isn’t a drain on anyone’s resource.