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High Pitch Drama: The pitch process in advertising is broken. Here’s how to fix it.

Everyone agrees the pitching process is unfair practice, but knowing the next company is willing to do it, no one can make an effort to change it.

By  Neeraj SharmaOct 31, 2022 8:28 AM
High Pitch Drama: The pitch process in advertising is broken. Here’s how to fix it.
The process of pitching for new business in advertising is a touchy topic. But can agencies change the pitch game? (Representational image: Jason Roswell via Unsplash)

It’s far easier to criticize and blame the system than try to change it, so I decided to do just that.

World over companies from different sectors – consultancies, IT, infrastructure etc pitch for new businesses. That’s the way to grow and prosper. I have no idea how they go about it, but what happens in our advertising industry is something to ponder over. It’s like 10 fishing rods dropped in a small bucket of water jostling to catch a single fish (with the fish having all the power). What might look like a job of tremendous skill might just be an outcome of chance.

(Disclaimer: No, we don’t consider our clients fish. It’s just a metaphor to illustrate a point.)

But how broken is this pitching business? Allow me to explain. Imagine an infrastructure company filing a tender for a prestigious highway project. All the participants are told to build 100 kms of road each, as part of the evaluation process to see the quality of the outcome. It gets even funnier:

- They haven’t been told the criteria for evaluation, so even if one makes the most durable road, the jury might feel the colour of the tar is a little off and decide to not award the tender.

- They are given a deadline, which is less than a quarter of the timeline they commit for existing work.

- Even the budget/size of the tender is not communicated because it’s either “confidential” or “undecided.”

- The cherry on top is, hold your breath; you are not paid a single penny to construct that 100 kms road.

What seems an outrageous ask, guaranteed to draw no interest from businesses in other sectors, is just a normal day in the life of advertising.

Everyone agrees that it’s an unfair practice, but knowing the next company is willing to do it, no one can make an effort to change it. When the entry barrier is low, the value of our work is open to question (what do you do anyway? Just bring ideas) and not just small, but even the big names are competing for the smallest of businesses; hardly anything can be done to change that.

Some brave companies ask for pitch fees (how dare you!) but the consistency * duration equation of their success is still unproven.

Now I can’t leave the column by just pointing fingers and not offering a solution (which I so want to do); hence I am trying to come up with some solution:

- I am not sure about the law about cartels under the competition act, but if it is possible, then the top 10 firms should come together to agree on pre-decided pitch fees with 3-4 slabs based on the size of the business.

- The pitch document must mention the size of the business as a prerequisite to invite for a pitch.

- An autonomous body picking members from different agencies should be entrusted with the task to streamline the pitch process.

- The client sends the pitch document to this autonomous body with the names of the agencies they want to participate in the pitch process, which then is floated among those companies.

- The pitch fees are submitted beforehand and are handed over once the pitch process is complete.

- The evaluation criteria and marks are given to the committee, which is then sent to each of the participating agencies.

A fair, transparent and just practice for the time and resources agencies invest so passionately. Is it too much to ask?

You may say I'm a dreamer

And I'm the only one

I know you will not join us

And the world will be the same.

On this positive note, next time I am back with a similar pressing issue without offering any sensible solution.

Neeraj Sharma is senior VP - strategy at L&K Saatchi & Saatchi. Views expressed are personal.

First Published on Oct 31, 2022 8:28 AM