No, I am not becoming a pitch specialist.
I must quickly add that there is nothing wrong with that. But sadly, pitches are not so simple that a journalist, merely by observing and reporting, can become a specialist. So no, unfortunately, I am not a pitch specialist. In fact, if someone had to ask me about a pitch process, I would get lost at the non disclosure agreement (NDAs) stage itself - I still do not understand how they are signed, who drafts them - client or agency, what happens if it is violated, what all is it binding on, do they have expiry dates, or why are they even needed.
Clearly, I am a bottom-of-the-class student on pitches right now, and that still does not deter me from writing on them. Also, because this is one area that continues to get reporters of the domain to ask many questions - after all even in exchange4media.com, the 'Most Popular' reports (without fail and week-on-week) are that of pitch calls and account wins – the former is more popular than the latter.
In a previous column, I had written on businesses being awarded to the incumbents. It intrigues me even now how some clients look around only to come back to their existing agency. Long relationships are great in any context, even in business. But the question was whether clients had taken the pitch process for granted? Whether it was fair to make agencies spend the kind of time and money that they did, only to learn that the incumbent was, after all, good enough. Most importantly, was it fair on the incumbent to prove time and again that they were worthy of handling the client, despite the existing relation?
Needless to say, friends and people passionate about conversations such as these had some strong views to offer. Many agreed, but many others had a different point of view.
This column is for that point of view.
I do not think I would be exaggerating if I said that the recently announced Coca Cola media pitch is going to be the mother of all media pitches announced in 2010 in India. Not because it is a global pitch, or that this is one of the largest and coolest clients in the industry today. But because Coca Cola and Madison Media have been an example of a long client-agency relation. The two have worked for the last 11 years, and now Madison has to compete to once again assure the client that this is a relation worth continuing.
Now that is where some people, whose views matter, think my thought process is limited.
A pitch process is also about learning. Unilever, ITC, Airtel are some examples where the clients and agencies have said that they learn more about the industry, about the business and about others in the business when they come out of a pitch process. Unfortunately, my limited view still makes me look at the expenses that the agencies are incurring to be a part of such processes, and I wonder what the client spending is. But there has to be some very good reasons for agencies to spend on pitches again and again, even though in some cases their chance of winning is a mere 10 per cent, so I should stop complaining on that point now.
Another very interesting view had come in a conversation with Agnello Dias, Co-Founder, TapRoot, who is one of the most humble and genuine creative geniuses of our times. Dias pointed out that absolutely no work presented in creative pitches had ever been published or broadcast. The explanation is that the client cannot "obviously" give a genuine brief to agencies - especially in cases that have 7-10 agencies in a pitch. And hence, the National Creative Directors and other top minds of the agencies begin working day in and day out on hypothetical briefs (I wonder if this work can at least be entered in awards - that may be some solace).
The ideas are not presented in laptops or Macs - they are always printed in large size posters to be displayed all across the room where the pitch is to happen. 'Theatrics' is the word that was used - to create a feel, to put an impression. I wonder if this could also turn off clients – to see such presentations that really are wastage of paper and other resources, at a time when everyone is going green and going gaga about the going green.
But somewhere the clients don't mind it, which is why agencies are doing this even today. And there are companies that have made a business of this. They take the presentations from agencies, print them in these large sized sheets or shoot them, and hand it back to the agency in time for the client's pitch.
Maybe clients have not taken the pitch processes for granted, perhaps that view is indeed harsh and one-sided. But somewhere, shouldn't the pitch process evolve too? Should it not stop looking like a one-way communication like a 'Dance India Dance' or 'Zara Nach Ke Dikha' (though even in that the judges perform sometimes!)? If it is about finding a partner, the client should also be answering a few questions as part of a followed process, should be committing spends and sticking with it, or should be definitely paying on time.
Yes, there are those who do, but there are many others who do not. The AAAIs should probably have it in its agenda to constantly have conversations with clients such as these, and tell them how to operate in an industry where clients are second only to Gods.