Picture: 123RF/Artur Szczybylo
Picture: 123RF/Artur Szczybylo

The ad industry has come full circle and once again we find ourselves in the endless cycle of full-blown creative pitches. Agencies are providing massive creative campaigns and giving away their valuable intellectual property for a R50,000 pitch fee. This process is devaluing our overall offering as an industry.

Pitching for new business is synonymous with the ad industry – it’s all about being on pitch lists, chasing new business and frantically preparing for pitches. Yes, there’s the obvious thrill of winning and, in the current economic climate, there’s the benefit of a financial boost. But at what cost?

Pitch costs can easily come in at R1m. Either we need to go back to only presenting credentials and having chemistry sessions to determine fit and suitability, or we need to increase the rejection fee substantially to cover at least 50% of pitch costs. Multiply that by three agencies on a pitch and clients would have to fork out R1.5m. That could quite possibly be a deterrent to blatant abuse of the pitch process.

But is pitching really the best way for agencies to drive growth? Every SA agency would be foolish not be focused on bottom line and future viability at the moment – there’s certainly scope for increasing revenue and ensuring financial security. But the cost of an unsuccessful pitch is financially detrimental to any agency and there can obviously be only one winner. True, if you don’t get in the game you don’t win, but consider the fact that you are also taking your best resources off your regular business over that period and your cost is far more than just the printing of impressive presentation packs and clever handouts. Also, what message are we sending our current clients when we turn our attention so obviously to the pitch frenzy?

The big take-out

The big pitch is back in fashion, but there are benefits to be gained from natural, organic business growth with existing clients by demonstrating an understanding beyond the brand and building depth and authenticity in the relationship with the client.

It costs six to seven times more to gain a new client than it does to retain one. Could it be that, if we spent the same time and energy on our existing business, we just might find the rewards to be far greater? Just for a moment, consider the option of taking the same hours, effort and enthusiasm afforded to a pitch and dedicating it to your existing clients. Spend this on learning more about their business, their products, their market challenges and the things we are all actually supposed to know about our clients. Just maybe, if we spent more time investing in and growing our clients’ business – thereby demonstrating both an understanding of the business and loyalty to the client – we might find ourselves getting more of that business. Take the time to learn about their other brands and they may just hand you one. My experience over the past 18 months has shown that there are benefits to be gained from natural, organic business growth with existing clients by demonstrating an understanding beyond the brand and building depth and authenticity in the relationship with the client.

The pitch certainly has its place – as a start-up there is no option but to pitch to grow your business. The pitch process also creates a competitive environment, which sparks creativity and energises employees. A pitch win is good for your bottom line and great for agency morale – everyone loves to be a winner. On the other hand, losing multiple pitches can be soul-destroying and brings with it a negative energy that runs the risk of poisoning existing business. Perhaps there’s room to be more discerning about the pitches we focus our resources on, as opposed to pitching on everything that comes our way. How often do we question if it will be a good client-agency fit? Do we believe in the brand? Can we be passionate about it every day for the next five years? If not, it’s probably a good idea to let that one pass.

Now more than ever, clients are under huge pressure to deliver on tight budgets and provide results. This is the time for agencies to stop looking around for the next best thing and focus on becoming the business partner our clients require. Develop a greater understanding of their business and needs beyond your print ad, show some loyalty and enthusiasm and go the extra mile. Experience has proved that by offering genuine value to our clients we are more likely to gain their trust and consequently more of their business. When we are a true business partner we are more likely to be retained. Progressive business growth through this type of business partnership with our existing clients is far more cost-effective, less stressful and mutually beneficial than any new business pitch could ever be.