by Masingita Mazibuko Contrary to how firm and solid it feels beneath our feet, the earth is in a fluid state and influenced by numerous forces that bring about change. I recall memorising during high school science classes a number of the principles that influence that change, such as opposites attract when it comes to ions and cations.

In any case, this is not an attempt to recall my science from yesteryear (a futile task, I suspect, and one I shall put off until my daughter requires me to dust off those cranial cobwebs). The inference is rather to highlight that tension can give rise to vastly different results when it is amplified or reduced.

Masingita MazibukoEvolved into a debate

Six months ago, when I told a colleague-cum-BTL-agency-owner about my move from an agency to a client organisation, the conversation naturally evolved into a debate concerning how to tackle any new work that needed to be done; that is, to put it out to pitch, or not.

The common perspective is that marketers are at times guilty of calling willy-nilly for pitches. The rationale, or perceived rationale, is that they do so to hedge their bets, perhaps largely out of fear of putting all their eggs in one strategic and creative basket.

Personally, I think this perception is exaggerated and exacerbated by the anxiety of a team in the pitch situation. Not only is there time pressure, but it is going head-to-head with other agencies and obviously has to consider that the work it puts out might not crack the brief immediately.

Consider the alternative

My colleague, however, highlighted the downsides of the pitch process, forcing me to consider the alternative.

A pitch is akin to a first date, during which you present yourself in your finest, and are at your most witty, in a bid to ensure the relationship moves forward.

In the marketing world, this means that the agency or consultancy’s best resource is often deployed to ensure it ‘wins the business’, to the detriment of existing clients. So, a marketing community that constantly demands its service providers pitch in a sense destabilises the industry. Hmmm…

Another school of thought holds that healthy competition (the pitch) can act as a stimulus and thereby fuel creativity.

Clear caveat

“Mohammed Ali had Joe Frazier; Bill Gates had Steve Jobs,” states Christian Jarret* in The Surprising Benefits of a Creative Rivalry. In this piece, he highlights the benefits of healthy rivalry when it comes to igniting creativity. There is, of course, a clear caveat: “It depends on how one handles the competition at hand.”

Key principles mentioned include “one should not avoid healthy rivalry”, “one must not obsess over one’s rival” and “one should also seek to prove naysayers wrong”.

When I consider this perspective, I immediately think of the music industry’s Grammy Awards, the film community’s Academy Awards (Oscars) and Emmy Awards, and the South African ad industry’s The Loerie Awards. In all of these, and others as well as on the sports fields, the overall objective is to ensure advancement of the respective fields.

No one right answer

So, there’s no one right answer to the question, “Should I call for a pitch or not?”

On the one hand, you cannot underestimate the importance of deeper engagement between client and agency, and many a brand has been built as result of enduring relationships. On the other, creative rivalry does play a role in fuelling creativity.

Ultimately though, regardless, the aim is to ensure that whatever emerges serves to build your brand in addressing the needs and desires of your target.

For the right reasons

Wait a minute — that last line reads as if I am sitting on the fence. Let me put it another way: going to pitch is always the right answer when the marketer can honestly admit that he or she is seeking a pitch for the right reasons, eg there’s a fundamental shift in his or her communication strategy that requires different expertise (from TV to digital, say).

But taking on a new marketing partner is not a painless process — it will take time for that partner to build the brand-knowledge that resides with the encumbent agency.

All relationships go through ups and downs, and it is by tackling the troughs head on that they can be strengthened.

Forge ahead

I firmly believe that simply seeking a new idea is not a good reason to go out to pitch. Unless the marketer is 100% certain there are other, insurmountable reasons, I would suggest he or she forge ahead with the existing relationship and seek ways to stimulate higher levels of creativity.

Masingita Mazibuko, marketing director at Unilever, contributes the monthly “Africa Style” column to The views expressed within this column are entirely her own.

*Jarret Christian. The Surprising Benefits of a Creative Rivalry.

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