#AgencyLeaders2019: Most-rated pitch consultant
by MarkLives (@marklives) For 2019, Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS) (@agencyselection) has been voted by South African agency executives as their most-recommended pitch consultant in South Africa, with Yardstick as runner-up.
Every year since 2012, MarkLives has been polling South Africa’s top ad agency leaders to find out what they think of their competitors, whom they see as effective managers and great creative leaders, and where they believe their future competition is likely to come from. These are the results for 2019 and this week we are running the following categories.
The most-recommended pitch consultant in South Africa
Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS)
While the economy continues to ebb and flow, Johanna McDowell, Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS) founder and CEO, believes her business is fortunate enough to be recession-resilient. This is because, in any downturn situation, marketers more than ever need to know they are spending their budgets wisely. She recalls an IAS masterclass at the beginning of 2019, where a panel of leading marketers were asked to talk to a roomful of agency folk. The biggest takeout was that 2019 budgets were the exact same as in 2012 but expectations were much higher, putting everyone under pressure.
Although marketing spend isn’t growing, the industry is definitely changing. According to McDowell, although the budget split favours BTL and digital activity, marketers all agree that finding an agency which serves as a partner, not simply a supplier, isn’t only becoming more important but aa requirement. Marketers are looking for industry leaders with real business problem-solving skills, partners who will sit in the trenches with them. She, however, questions whether enough people truly understand the term “partnership”. For her, it’s about being proactive and consistently being curious. not only about clients’ business but the category they fall in, as well as the broader industry as a whole.
To stay ahead of global trends, McDowell attends AdForum Worldwide Summits twice a year. At these events, 30-40 pitch consultants discuss spend, predictions, and other market-related challenges with about 40 agencies of different types. A major trend according to her is how real industry leaders are wanting to be closer to their clients and have become less interested in heading up massive agencies. For her, while it’s a good thing agencies have started to look at consultancies as potential threats, she’s convinced they’re not. What they charge for business advice is so far from what agencies would typically charge for the same offering, and this has created a huge opportunity gap for agencies to capitalise on.
IAS consults in two ways. The first is on a subscription basis, with agencies providing it with non-pitch-related services to help them improve their own marketing and assist in finding that which sets them apart from the hundreds of other agencies in the country. This part of the business also gives agencies feedback on their pitch wins and losses, and helps guide them through what did and didn’t work. The second avenue is running pitches with clients. Marketers come to it for advice on a number of areas, and IAS works with clients and agencies to examine everything that’s involved within a future business relationship.
IAS South Africa was launched in 2007 and, having started from zero, McDowell is proud to announce that the business has grown every year since inception. She shared figures of a 27% increase between 2017 and 2018, and a further +21% from 2018 to 2019.
— Profile by Sabrina Forbes.
Previously: In 2018, it was Yardstick; in 2017, it was IAS. In 2016, 2015 and 2014, it was Yardstick every time.
Despite tight economic conditions, Yardstick has also shown excellent growth as the demand for strategic consulting and commercial services continues to grow. In 2019, Yardstick added a number of blue-chip clients such as Absa, Nedbank, Standard Bank, Liberty, Santam, Sanlam, MMI, Old Mutual, Woolworths, Pioneer Foods, Distell, TFG, and Famous Brands to its portfolio
Significant achievements in 2019 are its successful facilitation of several high-profile pitches including but not limited to a global pitch for Distell (all brands) plus a pitch for Namibia Breweries Tafel Lager and the management of what it believes was arguably the largest media pitch in the country last year. Yardstick is also proud to have been involved in a number of pitches with blue-chip clients in the financial services industry.
The Yardstick team believes that shrinking budgets are going to continue to put pressure on agencies but that there’s an opportunity to forge ahead with fresh and innovative thinking, regardless of budgetary restrictions. Examples often tend to show in the client space, with changes such as insourcing/going in-house becoming more popular.
Yardstick celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019 and is proud that many of its existing clients have been a part of its family for the full two decades. It believe this is because its clients view it as strategic value-adding partners, not just as service providers, plus its highly experienced and skilled staff members continue to aim for transparency and integrity in everything they do, giving Yardstick the ability to remain completely objective and fair — the ultimate goal of any pitch consultancy.
— Profile by Sabrina Forbes.
Previously: In 2018, IAS was the runner-up and, in 2017, Yardstick. Before that, in 2016, 2015 and 2014, it was IAS.
How the poll works
In late October 2019, we invited a panel of handpicked agency executives — in creative and management, and ranging over a wide spectrum from small- and medium-sized to network agencies — to nominate their most-admired companies and company leaders of various types of agencies. This year we conducted only a national poll, doing away with the two regional polls for Johannesburg and Cape Town. Execs couldn’t nominate their own agencies or staff members. All the nominations were then tallied up for the final result. The editors of MarkLives held two votes in the final poll and could choose not to apply these in tight races.
Note: Runner-up(s) are only named if they achieved a good nomination tally, relative to the winner’s position. Contenders are named if they stood out significantly above other nominees but weren’t able to close in on the winner’s tally. The Most Admired Agency of the Year is disqualified from the One to Watch category; votes cast in its favour in this category are discarded.
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