by John Little, Regional Managing Partner, Africa, The Observatory International I write this in response to an article published on January 8, under the hand of Odette van der Haar, CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising [ACA].

Don’t get me wrong, I know, like and respect Odette. But we are all entitled to our opinions and to share them, from time to time.

In truth, it was the “headline” of Odette’s article that got me going:  The rise of “independent pitch consultants” and how to deal with them [The john littleheadline was written by the editor of MarkLives – just for the record. – ED]. I could almost hear… the “unfortunate” rise of independent pitch consultants. And I bridled further at the notion that we had to be “dealt with”. Like naughty school persons or a bad smell?

That said, Odette, I think you wrote a balanced and useful piece. Thank you.

I would just like to add a different perspective to some of the points in your article.

Pitching or Pitches

This is not a descriptor we, at The Observatory International, would choose to use. The term is tainted, limited and undervalues a vitally important activity.

We prefer to call it Search and Selection, which better captures the extent, complexity and importance of what we do.

Our global, best practice process embraces:

  • Reconciling the diverse requirements of marketing and procurement to develop a robust set of criteria, against which to search for a suitable agency partner
  • Understanding the organisational and cultural imperatives of the marketer so that we can help find a “best fit” partner, from both a skills and chemistry point of view
  • Conducting an exhaustive Search process, including Chemistry sessions to assess client/agency “fit”
  • Ensuring that a proper brief is prepared and delivered to the agencies
  • Establishing cost alignment before the agencies “waste” untold hours preparing their presentations
  • Above all, ensuring, throughout the process, that there is “a level playing field” and that all agencies have an equal and fair opportunity

Yes, as you suggest, we “bridge the knowledge and experience gap” present in procurement and supply chain management departments. But, in truth, much of this knowledge and experience is missing in marketing departments as well.
Finally, like you, we believe strongly that we have a responsibility to ensure that our clients [marketing and procurement] follow best practice guidelines that are considered, widely [here and abroad], to be reasonable and ethical.

So Much More Than a Pitch

To elaborate, the term Pitch Consultant represents an extremely narrow view of what we offer marketers.

Whilst Search and Selection is still around 50% [but declining] of our revenue globally, there is an important [and growing] other 50%, which includes:

  • Consulting: We are seeing greater and greater call for consulting services in the areas of roster modelling and process improvement, to deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness
  • Alignment/Re-Alignment: Appointing a new agency is just the beginning of a journey. We encourage marketers to invest in an alignment process to get the relationship off to the best possible start or get it back on track
  • Performance Measurement: Whilst there is an increasing desire to measure marketing ROI, there is an equal acknowledgement of the importance of measuring agency performance [and client, for that matter!. This is particularly so if the parties have a payment by results [PBR] mechanism in place. Again, we are seen, by agencies in particular, to be arbiters of “fairness” in this regard
  • Training: To improve efficiency and effectiveness, we are increasingly undertaking skills upliftment workshops, to help marketing people better engage with their agencies

Conflict of Interest

In our view, the potential conflict of interest within a marketing organisation is not restricted to marketing people. By using a neutral, independent consultant, the organisation applies “good governance” across the entire team – marketing and procurement.

That said, we are very clear that we cannot be completely impartial if we number agencies amongst our clients. Our business is marketer facing. We do not offer services to or accept fees from agencies.

And, if you will forgive me, I must suggest that the ACA cannot be entirely  “neutral and unbiased”, to quote you.  The ACA is financed by agencies and, quite reasonably, is there to promote the best interests of its members.

From a marketer standpoint, we offer a more neutral or impartial position, covering both ACA members and non-members.

Facilitator or Arbitrator

You write “procurement departments need to ensure that all parties including the independent consultants are treated fairly during tenders and pitches”

We see it slightly differently. We see our role as one of acting as the “process police” [as one client has described me!] to make sure that both client [including both marketing and procurement] and agency/ies feel that the process was beyond reproach and that the final outcome, financially and contractually, is “fair” to both parties.

Well, Odette, that’s my two cents worth. May the debate continue. And may I wish everyone a peaceful and prosperous 2013.

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One reply on “Pitch consultant and proud of it!”

  1. Just for the record. The Cell C ‘pitch’ saga from 12 months ago that Herman reported on was managed and run by Cell C procurement in conjunction with Yardstick and a panel of 6 senior Cell C managers and executives across different areas of the business, of which I was one of them. The ‘pitch results’ were agreed by all and the press release was signed off by the CCO at the time prior to release. Cell C chose not to honour the decision as a result of new management. At the end of the day, irrspective of outcome, pitch consultants or not, the client will make whatever decision the client chooses to make, this process is unfortunately all smoke and mirrors.

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