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The tender and pitching process in the brand communications sphere internationally has recently come under fire for vague briefs, stiff competition reducing the quality of work and high pitching costs, among others. Is it any better in South Africa?

The Association for Communications & Advertising’s (ACA) Code of Conduct is an effort to make the process fair to all parties. The code has five rules: short-list up to five agencies; allow sufficient preparation time; submit only credentials and case studies; pay the pitch fee; and protect intellectual property.

“Most agencies adhere to the code, with the result that fewer tenders require mediation than in previous years,” says ACA CEO Odette van der Haar. “Many clients have adopted the case study and credentials way of pitching and if not, pay the required pitch fees when requesting strategic and/or creative work from agencies during pitches.”

However, says Johanna McDowell, founder and CEO of the Independent Agency Search & Selection Company, there are suspicions that when there isn’t a pitch consultant acting as a “monitor”, it means that agencies are allowing prospective clients to ask them for work without paying a pitch fee.

Further challenges that are affecting the local pitch process include a lack of clear briefs, a lack of communication and a lack of real budgets – much like the challenges faced internationally. A lack of knowledge among marketers and procurement officers about procuring services from the sector also contributes to a flawed pitch process. A more proactive approach to overcoming these concerns is needed, argues McDowell.

She says agencies should keep asking questions of clients. If their questions are not answered satisfactorily then agencies must decide whether to persist or withdraw from the pitch. Agencies, she maintains, have every right to ask questions and they should be able to ask for a debriefing session with the client after the pitch so that they know why they won or lost.  

The ACA tries to help agencies resolve challenges by offering a free service that allows agencies to log pitches with the organisation. It then contacts the clients to check their pitch process and assists in finding a solution for all parties. 

The ACA also has a tool that enables clients to search for and short-list agency partners ahead of or during a pitch process. “The tool is easy to use and matches agency service providers to the client’s requirements – as stated by the clients themselves,” says Van der Haar. “In the future, the laborious process of short-listing agencies based on agency requests for information and credentials submissions during pitch processes may well be cut out.”

Big take-out: Challenges with the current pitch process, in South Africa and globally, include a lack of clear briefs, a lack of communication and a lack of real budgets – but organisations like the ACA can streamline the process for the benefit of agencies and clients.