Oystercatchers is top matchmaker in new IPA survey of agency pitching practice

If I was contemplating a career in advertising these days (don’t worry, I’m not) I think I’d be an ‘intermediary,’ which is the polite name for agency-client matchmakers; the people who save clients the trouble of finding out for themselves which agencies they should put on their shortlist.

So, this week in the UK, if it’s a consumer brand we’ll have BBH (tried and tested creative creds), Wieden+Kennedy (guaranteed something new and exciting – eventually), Grey (a biggie that seems to have discovered creativity – albeit rather late in life) and Hello People (new kids on the block from big agency backgrounds – so at least they’ll try hard). There you are, job done!

It’s a bit more complicated than that of course, conflicts for a start. But quite how complicated only the intermedes themselves probably know.

But they’re a fact of life these days and the UK’s IPA trade body has been surveying its members to see what they think about them.

Interestingly 50 per cent of respondents said the performance of an intermediary where applicable, was excellent or very good, and a further 27 per cent described it as good. Only nine per cent described it as poor. ‘Where applicable’ is worth noting however.

And the best ones are: Oystercatchers (with a positive performance rating of 75 per cent, left), The Observatory (71.5 per cent) and the AAR (Advertising Agency Register as was) on 60 per cent. Now there may be others who give agencies a harder time (which may be useful from the client’s point of view) but the top two are pretty clear.

Oystercatchers was set up a few years ago by Suki Henderson (who’d done this sort of stuff before) and former JWT new business director Peter Cowie. Early on in its career it survived a nasty spat with Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP, resulting in a grovelling apology. I believe the pair of them also survived a rather testing interview with SMS when they conducted the Tesco pitch (which went to W+K).

So what else does the survey say?

In just over 40 per cent of pitches intermediaries were identified as being involved, with the extent of their involvement having a positive impact upon overall perceptions of pitch management. Positive affirmations on the various stages of the pitch process increased in some cases significantly, the more intermediaries played a part.

Overall management of the pitch process was deemed by 29 per cent of respondents as excellent or very good, with a further 30 per cent describing it as good. 22 per cent viewed it as poor.

Ian Priest (left), IPA president and boss of agency VCCP (so he has to put up with these characters) says: “We are all too aware of the important role that intermediaries play in the pitch process, alongside clients and agencies. Last year over 400 pitches were conducted in adland so it is vital that we are as proactive as possible in this area.

Both clients and agencies need to adapt together to continue to improve how we pitch and when we pitch, to achieve best practice for the benefit of all parties. We hope that the introduction of this survey will go some way in helping achieve this, and will ensure professionalism in an ever-changing landscape.”

Back to the report:

Areas seen to be done well during the pitch process in general include the business opportunity being clear from the outset, timetables and deadlines being agreed and kept, and RFIs being clear and concise.

Areas where there is room for improvement include the client’s budget being clearer upfront, greater clarity about the numbers of agencies involved in the pitches, and ensuring adequate access to key stakeholders.

Which all seems quite sensible. Whether or not clients will pay any attention is another matter. If you look at the recent huge cock-up made by the Government’s replacement for the COI, the Government Procurement Office, in its efforts just to arrive at a long list of agencies, you do rather wonder.

Maybe they should have wheeled in Oystercatchers.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    The question I always have, which never gets a satisfactory answer, is… Shouldn’t the person responsible for advertising at the client be up to speed on who’s doing what out there, particularly in their business category? Shouldn’t he/she have a mental short list of agencies doing good work. Think of all the loverrrrlllly lunches they could have interviewing them. Otherwise, what the fuck are they pulling down all that money for?
    Cheers/George “AdScam” Parker