Friday, February 25, 2011

Ditch the pitch

As reported in Ad Age recently, US retail giant Sears has had written into their NDA that any ideas presented to them by agencies during the pitch process will belong to Sears, irrespective of whether or not the agency wins the pitch.

This announcement has, understandably, caused a bit of a ruckus. Ad agencies are opting out. The American Association of Advertising Agencies wrote a letter calling the clause ‘unreasonable and unfair’.

Sears and their review consultancy have declined to comment but the unofficial reasoning that has begun to surface seems to be that they feel uneasy about the amount of information that agencies get to know about their business in the pitch process and have concerns about this information being used to the advantage of their competitors by losing agencies. They also argue that they are often pitched similar ideas by rival agencies and don’t want to be accused by losing agencies if the winning agencies ideas are similar to theirs.

Honestly, I can’t be bothered looking into the minutia of these arguments on either side. The whole thing is just screaming proof that this process is broken beyond repair.

Agencies have always found pitching to be morally ambiguous territory. Now it’s clear that clients are not comfortable with it either. Why would any of us want to participate in a process that breeds this much mistrust and resentment? And how can it possibly be seen as a good way to start off such an important business relationship?

In tweaking the parameters of a tradition that is so clearly faulty, Sears are just making the whole structure even shakier.

It’s not hard to tot up the time and money – not to mention the erosion of trust and respect – that would be saved by dropping the creative pitch process and reviewing agencies in a more rational way. So why does the tradition persist in it's present form?

I can't help wondering what we (as agencies) are doing wrong to make clients have so little courage in their convictions when it comes to employing us. That we have to do the job to convince them that we can do the job.

Or maybe it's about keeping Heads of Advertising and CMOs busy and powerful. Egged-on by 'review consultants' that really shouldn't exist at all if everyone else knew how to do their jobs properly.

With a bit of luck Sears will have broken the camel’s back with this one and we can start experimenting with something closer to James Cooper’s ideal of Zero Waste Creativity.

Choosing an agency is an employment process and should be handled as one. Look at the candidate’s past experience and references. Interview them extensively. Get to know their attitudes and principles. Then decide if they are capable of doing the job and if they have a character that you can work with.

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