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Advertisers should be looking to improve existing agency relationships not casting their eyes at the dating scene. Christine Downton, Associate Partner at The Observatory International, says fix don’t pitch.

We live in times of unprecedented uncertainty. So why would you want to add to your organisational challenges?

That means accepting that now may not be the time for a pitch. It may sound like an odd statement for an organisation that‘s heavily involved in Agency Search and Selection but advertisers should be focused on making the relationship with their agencies work as well as possible.

We’ve always focused on the principle of fix before pitch but right now it’s even more of a priority. That’s because the unprecedented challenge of Coronavirus gives marketers the chance to embark on a real reset for their current relationship. It’s an opportunity to make it work better for both sides.

Brands are facing a perfect storm of resource constraints brought about by the pandemic, disruption to normal ways of working and the looming economic recession.  For some of the harder hit brands, the priority has been to cut costs, stabilise the business and restructure where necessary.

Even for those brands that have seen a boost in demand, there has been a need to find new ways of working, innovate to protect share whilst ‘battening down the hatches’ to weather the predicted economic downturn.

Adding a pitch into this cauldron of uncertainty is rarely going to be the right thing to do for three key reasons:

1. Knowledge of your business

It is well documented that strong client agency relationships deliver higher standards of work and are more efficient and effective. That is a very strong incentive in itself to avoid a pitch if possible at all times.  In these very challenging times that argument is even stronger.

Following a pitch, it can take an agency several months to get fully up to speed with your business. You don’t have the benefit of time to enable that to happen, problems need to be solved now.

Strategists at your agencies will have a deep knowledge of your business as well as a good idea of what your competitors might be up to. They are a valuable resource that you should lean on at this time to help you plan your way out of the crisis – particularly if your own resources are constrained.  If you need new thinking and ideas, ask your agency to bring in additional or fresh strategic talent to supplement your existing team.

2. The cost opportunity

We’ve estimated that in total a client marketing team could expect to expend 35 to 40 man days on an average pitch – plus additional Procurement and possibly legal counsel time.  Given the current pressures on marketing teams, it has to be asked whether that is good use of resources.

3. Behaviours and ways of working

From time to time clients ask us to run a pitch for them because the relationship has ‘irretrievably’ broken down, and, of course, sometimes that is the case.  However, digging a little deeper we often find that the breakdown is the result of poor ways of working and behaviours – both from client and agency teams.

Going out to pitch won’t solve that problem – it will just transfer the problem to another relationship – and compound the time, cost and problem-solving issues.  Rapid diagnosis of the relationship issues and remedial action to address them would be a better use of time and resource.

Of course, none of this means that you should never pitch but you need to carefully consider when and how to pitch during this period.

Many pitches were underway when the lockdown began. We have successfully concluded a number of pitches in recent weeks, and in some cases new pitches have been initiated.

The bottom line, however, should be that unless there’s an urgent corporate or structural reason to re-pitch, the first port of call should be to fix that existing relationship.

 

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