Brand Experience: When agencies should show up at pitches
by Mike Silver (@stretchmike) Any BTL and brand experience agency will be able to appreciate this scenario:
Iin a project-based world, you are constantly on the hunt for the next big gig that will carry you through a dry spell. Along comes some fancy European brand (whose campaigns are part of the reason you find yourself in advertising today) and you are salivating. We lie to ourselves, pretending that it’s ok that it’s asked five other agencies to pitch (on risk) and has only given you 10 days to revert on a campaign that’s going to ‘relaunch the brand’.
When did this become ok?
It’s so lazy that it briefs you altogether in one room, with a weird sense of camaraderie and good fortune among competing agencies. You then go back to your agency, begin the creative team pep-talk, and start praying to whatever God you believe in that this will be your lucky break. All the while, the clock ticks and the hours add up, but you’re convinced this time it’s worth it.
You pitch as half of the room is on Tinder and Facebook, walking away with no idea of where you actually stand. After four weeks of waiting (although you were promised a response within a week), you finally get a cryptic email congratulating you and requesting an immediate meeting. From there, the fun starts as you get rebriefed, then make amends, then wait, then present to the CEO, then more waiting, all done without a purchase order.
Finally, nearly three months after the process started, you are informed that, due to the economic climate, the campaign has been cut, but “please don’t worry because you made a really good impression” and you are definitely “top of mind for next time”. And the brand expected you to do all this without charging it because, you know, in the end, “we didn’t actually execute any work to the general public”.
When did this become okay?
“No is a full sentence”
One of the most powerful things a mentor once said to me is, “No is a full sentence” — if we just put our egos and insecurities aside and take care of ourselves, it’s a lot harder to get walked all over. Unfortunately, the agency world is full of shiny logos and even shinier trophies. The gatekeepers to both of these are the clients. Clients who work in massive (and, at times, chaotic) multinationals, often reporting to Dubai, Italy or maybe even that creative kingdom of Estonia as part of a new cost-saving initiative. What this means is that, while our clients might be our best friends, often they don’t wear the pants, and wet them a long time ago after receiving multiple email bombs from abroad.
Being mindful that corporates will be corporates, how do brand experience and project-based agencies mitigate their pitch investment risks? Below are a few suggestions:
- Fair pitch field: we’d all love to be one of one agencies in a pitch. Practicality and ethics aside, it’s unlikely that, in the near-future, credentials will be enough to win large pieces of work. Lying to yourself that you have a one-in-six chance in a six-way pitch is like No. 1 trying to convince us about the virtues of firepools. Pick a maximum number of agencies involved. Mine is three; stiff competition but fair enough chance to nail it.
- Pitch fee: what? A fee? Aren’t we blessed just to be invited? Look at it this way, if you went to a doctor for a second opinion, that would cost you. At least requesting one shows you value your time and potentially ensures some compensation.
- No pay, no revert: you awarded us the pitch, Client X? Awesome, now please cough up for it and any other work that follows. Why? Because some budgets suffer from the ‘Houdini effect’ and we want to ensure we receive some compensation for a winning response and any work that follows it.
- Be honest: too often, we have our own processes and ways of working, and forget to communicate these upfront. Doing so will set a certain tone of professionalism, gives the opportunity to see how you might get screwed (when the client disagrees) and covers your backside legally down the line.
- Gut: the hardest of lot but, arguably, the most powerful. The longer you spend in the game, the stronger the ‘spidey sense’ becomes. Ignore your gut at your peril! Generally, clients that make the hair on your neck stand up will probably have a similar effect on your FD later down the line. Nothing is more liberating than saying “no, thanks” to a multinational when it feels wrong at briefing stage!
Sadly, this is not an exact science. There is also no real protocol when it comes to ethics and compliance with regards to briefing and compensating BTL agencies. The onus is upon each agency to take care of its side of street and, like Tim Noakes with a croissant, resist the temptation of the forbidden carb, or dodgy client, when it rears its irresistible (letter)head.
Mike Silver (@stretchmike) is managing director of Stretch Experiential Marketing (www.stretchexp.com). He established Stretch — a communications agency specialising in developing strategies and concepts for integrated brand-experience campaigns — after working in sponsorship consultancy and experiential marketing in the UK. He contributes the regular “Brand Experience” column, focusing upon broader integrated ‘brand experiences’, to MarkLives.