Why pitch policy and malpractice are damaging clients as well as agencies

Are clients taking the mickey in creative pitches these days?

I only ask because lots of others, mainly in creative agencies, are wondering too.

Pitches are coming thick and fast and they’re getting more expensive for the agencies in question. £100,000 seems to be the norm to cover finished creative work, even films.

Yet in many cases agency and client go through all this rigmarole and then nothing much happens. There’ll probably be an initial campaign, based on the pitch stuff presumably, but then – zilch.


Often after the agency, which might be accused of naivety, has staffed up to handle what it thinks is a big account. So you get five extra people “supported” by £60,000 of income, the payment for one ad.

There are other problems in today cut-throat business life. The people calling the pitch might not know what’s going on at the top of the company. Molson Coors is currently pitching its Carling business although there are persistent rumours that the brand, in free-fall as are many ersatz lagers, might be sold or even (to use one of today’s buzz words) “retired.” Mondelez’s Philadelphia appointed Karmamara today. But the same rumours are swishing around Philadelphia.

Then there are network deals, cutting out independent agencies. They may get to pitch but, in reality, there’s little chance of them actually winning the business even if their ideas are better. A holding company might chuck in media for nothing (or what it persuades the client is nothing) to swing things their way. Clients surely know that when something is too good to be true it probably is. But “free” still works.

The upshot is that those clients who play the game fairly probably end up paying more than they should because they’re subsidising the ones who don’t. And newer, independent agencies are consigned to the outside looking in when it comes to the medium-to-big accounts they need to scale their business. This may have been on the minds of Lucky Generals as they entered talks with Omnicom.

The last exception to these rules, if such they be, was 2008’s adam&eve which grew with big building blocs – John Lewis, Foster’s, Halifax – before it sold to DDB in 2012. Could it happen today, barely nine years later? Doubt it somehow.

But the ad world – clients included – needs the likes of adam&eve to shake things up and put ideas and creativity first. In the UK at least there might never be another one.

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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.