Why are pitch cycles getting longer in the Indian adland?
Industry watchers discuss the atypical delay in pitch processes, attributing it to inexperience, caution and a preference for an integrated approach
In the ad world, agencies woo prospective clients by presenting marketing ideas for their products and services in a process known as "pitching." While intense, each cycle is a quick affair. It takes anywhere between a few days to a month for the client and the agency to seal the deal.
However, industry watchers have been concerned by a rather atypical delay in the process these days where some of the pitch cycles seem to have been going on for months without end. Leading agencies and experts give us some insight.
“From one to two months in the past, the cycle is now being stretched to as long as five and even six months. Many brands have called for the pitches months ago, however, there are no clear outcomes,” points out Virat Tandon, group CEO of the MullenLowe Lintas Group.
Many of these brands are unicorns which have been long-term sponsors of big-ticket sports properties.
Amit Wadhwa, Chief Executive Officer at Dentsu Creative India, echoes the sentiments. “The pitching has been erratic mainly with the new brands although some traditional brands are also taking longer to ink the deals now.”
Some brands are inviting pitches to find the best rates available in the market, especially for high-impact properties like IPL. Some of them would keep engaging with other agencies even when they already have an agency on board, industry experts say.
Is there an innocuous explanation behind these delays or is there something bigger at play?
New approach or spoilt for choices?
Several reasons are being cited for the delay in the pitch cycle. Tandon says, "There is uncertainty among certain brands about their upcoming advertising expenditure due to various reasons ranging from a revamp in their marketing strategy to funding winters to uncertain economic conditions globally.”
Wadhwa says the new integrated approach to advertising is the main reason behind the delays.
“Earlier, brands used to invite different pitches for ATL, Digital and Media from different agencies. Now, they are looking for integrated agencies which can offer them a bouquet of services. To accept the pitch from an integrated agency, brands will have to look at their ongoing relationships with various agencies. This is a time taking process which is delaying the fresh pitches,” Wadhwa said.
He further noted that startups, barring a few big ones, are not as organized in the pitching process as some of the corporates hence the delay.
Tanvi Gupta, Associate Director, Business Development & Planning, Zoo Media, says that the advertising industry in general has no standardized pitching process.
“With the increase in the supply of agencies and ‘options’ for the client, the erstwhile pitching process has deteriorated considerably,” Gupta pointed out.
She explained, “Most clients we encounter do not have thorough briefs of what they want to achieve. The biggest red flag for this is when they ask you for a call to discuss the brief without prepared documentation. The timelines are the second red flag, wherein the pitch process across year-long digital strategies and campaigns (festive, IPL and brand/product launch) has 4-5 days of turnaround time.”
So whilst the above is the norm, the only way out is for the entire industry to come together and agree upon certain standards and frameworks they wish to work within. In the absence of that, in this dog-eats-dog world, the pitch process is only going to get worse, Gupta suggests.
Manish Bhat, Founder director of Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, however, has a different point of view on the scenario. “Pitching process gets delayed as new brands are often not ready with their preparations. Sometimes their strategy is unclear, or their app is not ready so they buy time,” Bhat noted.
Randal Gomes, Head of Business Development, SoCheers, said, "The pandemic has made brand managers even more cautious and ensuring all boxes are ticked before they close a pitch. There are various levels of discussion between various stakeholders that take place from the brief stage to the strategy discussion to the final on-boarding. There have been many instances where, in the middle of a pitch, the overall marketing objective/ requirements changes and thus this has a domino effect on the pitch timeline."
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