There is a moment when you reach down to a gurgling infant with a smile on your face, only to stand with the vomited remains of baby rice on your favourite tie. This is the feeling many marketing directors encounter after bestowing their favours on an agency following a pitch process.
It is because of shortcomings in traditional pitches that marketers have looked again at the process. Recognizing they may not get a rounded view of agencies from the beauty parade and trial-by-PowerPoint, new ways of pairing up are being sought.
Marketers can assume that agencies of a certain size and calibre have creative, strategic and planning prowess that is to be expected. So recently, Channel 5, First Quench and Barclays have used a workshop approach to test agencies' working styles rather than simply their response to a brief.
The drivers for this are several. Agencies are working on increasingly integrated campaigns across the media,
creative, PR and new media disciplines. Clients want to see new abilities and how agencies work with others to deliver collective goals. However, the workshop pitch is not a complete solution and it may not show the most important skills. People with data analysis or project management talent are unlikely to impress in a pitch situation, where wit, fast-thinking and presentation presence often carry the day.
Nor does the workshop counter any argument that new business stars are wheeled out by agencies for presentations, to be replaced by day-to-day teams once the business is won. Less ethical agencies can just as easily pull the same fast one for the workshop process.
What the move to the workshop process does demonstrate is a demand from clients to see whether an agency can work in an integrated way, understanding the business, its products and services and its audiences.
We should take questioning of the pitch process as a sign that we need to start a working relationship from the outset, in order to reach a more rounded solution before the final presentations take place. The pitch is a process involving two partners trying to develop a relationship and the onus is likewise on clients to make it as productive as possible.
It is by getting to know each other better in that process that we will best avoid the aforementioned vomiting offspring becoming the result of a final union.
James is also new media planner at communications consultancy, Fishburn Hedges