Are today’s big pitches (like Johnson & Johnson’s) about getting the best agency or just saving money?

Moving an ad account these days is quite a performance, chiefly because you have the procurement department in there (often running the pitch when their job is to save money) and agency matchmakers, one of whose roles in life is to cost the client even more money.

But it can’t be that difficult can it?

After all, everybody knows (more or less) what everybody else charges, although this won’t stop silly people thinking they can can get more for less. So that’s procurement dealt with.

As to agency matchmaking, it’s obviously reasonable for a client like Tesco to get someone in (Oystercatchers) who knows more about the current state of agencies than it does, marooned in Cheshunt. But should every pitch need one? Aren’t marketing people supposed to know the market?

Now Tesco, which completed its ad agency review quicker than most people thought, seems to have chosen wisely in Wieden+Kennedy, with help from TAG. It seems to have been clear-sighted from the start, allowing no conflicts of any description. And chosen the best creative agency available with suitable back-up.

If this was Oystercatchers’ recommendation, good for them.

But surely that’s what you do. Pick the best creative agency, with a few caveats.

The most obvious of which is: don’t give the account to any agency who fields someone who is certifiably mad. This hasn’t always been as easy as it sounds.

Some of the great London agencies of the ’70s and ’80s were capable of fielding whole teams whose sanity might be questioned. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But they still did a lot better (on balance) than the Captain Sensibles who populated the big networks, and mostly still do.

But to go back to Johnson & Johnson.

As my colleague Stuart ‘Scoop’ Smith has pointed out, what the company is really trying to do is save money, in part by reducing a flabby agency roster. But, as my friend George Parker has also observed, the company currently employs agencies from all the big marcoms groups so it can expect, despite its wish to simplify matters, a volley of pitches proposing ever more ornate solutions to a simple problem: how to get some decent ads, on time, at reasonable cost with someone to pick up the phone (or access the appropriate closed Facebook page, civilisation has moved on after all).

Of course, saving money is also what General Motors was trying to do under the brief but amusing reign of former CMO Joel Ewanick. But, amid all the headlines which probably saw him off in the end, Joel rather overlooked the fact that poor market performance would not be forgiven even though his strategems might have delivered better ads (might have) and lower costs sometime in the future.

But the skids were under Joel right from his first, doom-laden ‘Chevy Runs Deep’ campaign. Inventing a new agency, Commonwealth from Goodby Silverstein and McCann, was an extreme version of the ornate solutions described above.

Well he’ll pop up somewhere else I’m sure.

By the way, on this pitch stuff, I read somewhere that JWT had pulled out of the Tesco pitch at the final stage.

Is this credible?

Or was it a response to our piece questioning the performance of WPP’s agencies in not making it to the final pitch list?

I think we should be told.

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general motors George Parker Joel Ewanick johnson & johnson JWT oystercatchers pitches procurement Tesco wieden+kennedy london

About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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