Don’t play the pitch game, says Sorrell, “land and expand”

Sir Martin Sorrell doesn’t have too much in common with messrs Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty, the trio who, when they set up BBH in 1982, announced they weren’t going to undertake creative pitches. Lots of agencies have said this at the outset (along with promising not to hire account handlers) but at BBH it lasted a good while.

In an interview timed for CES with Campaign US, Sorrell (below) says that his S4 Capital (or Media.Monks as they’d now like it to be known) doesn’t think much of pitching either.

“We like the land-and-expand strategy,” Sorrell said, referring to winning a project with a client and growing the business from there.

“We can’t afford to commit to people for a year for a pitch process, nor do we think it makes sense to get involved in procurement spreadsheet exercises,” he said. “That’s commoditized the business.”

S4C did get involved in a pretty big (and successful and controversial) pitch for BMW a while back but it’s true: you don’t often see Media Monks (fed up with these full stops appearing all over the place) on big account pitch lists although it’s certainly hoovered up new business.

The trouble for most agencies is that new business has become such an industry in its own right these days that agencies (media agencies too) feel they have to play the game. Even if, as Sorrell says, it means committing people for a year free of charge (for the client) with a less than evens chance of succeeding.

Management consultants, the cunning devils that they are, have worked things out much better. They gain a foothold in a client and make themselves indispensable, often because the tech they’re deploying is theirs, not the client’s.

Another one may come in and grab the lion’s share but they’re still around, with plenty of chances to increase their bit. Doesn’t happen often with agencies of course, once an account has moved they probably won’t get the chance to pitch again for a few years at least, if ever.

Media Monks seems to have followed this path, with considerable success.

Can other agencies follow Media Monks? Pitch consultants are so embedded in the business (often charging agencies to be on their books) that ever-cautious clients are unlikely to dispense with their services.

Sorrell isn’t noted for helping out his rivals.’Land and expand’ might be good advice though.

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