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Sustainability and the marketing agency pitch process

Lucinda Peniston-Baines - Observatory International Lucinda Peniston-Baines Co-Founder & Managing Partner, London February 14, 2023

Understanding how agencies plan to reduce the environmental impact of the communications development production and activation process, and how they will support clients to achieve the same, will become a much more significant part of the agency pitch selection process – observations from Lucinda Peniston-Baines on how the pitch process will evolve in 2023.

As companies and brands face the challenges of high inflation, on-going talent shortages, the cost-of-living crisis and continued socio-political disruption they are forced to be more cautious and explore short-term measures to mitigate the impact on their business.  At times like these, marketing and communications budgets can be hit hard.  Now more than ever, CEOs and CFOs need to be convinced of the power of commercial creativity to drive business and brand growth.  And that’s a tough debate to have when budgets are limited and they have many competing investment priorities.

Number of agency pitches

There were moments in 2022 when there appeared to be a frenzy of pitches as brands refocused post-pandemic.  But the number and type of pitches in play at the start of 2023 seems to have depleted.  This may be down to cost pressures placing a focus on the short-term in many companies but as veterans of our industry know, brand building and balancing the short and long-term is critical to growth.  Brands need to ensure they have the right strategic and creative partners in place, combined with flawless creative execution – something which should provide new business opportunities for agencies.  But it can be a difficult argument to win sometimes in corporate boardrooms.  Ensuring marketers have the rationale and evidence to win these arguments is key.

Quality of agency pitches

A slowing in the number of pitch opportunities may not be such a bad thing if the quality and execution of those pitches improves.  In 2022, during mental health awareness week, the IPA and ISBA launched the Pitch Positive Pledge – with the intention of improving the behaviours of agencies and marketers for the benefit of people, planet and profit.  An excellent initiative which has 278 signatories at the time of writing.  However, in our recent experience the behaviours and principles incorporated in the Pledge have still to become part of the ‘culture’ of pitching for many clients and their prospective agencies.  For example, some marketers continue to ask too much of agencies in the pitch process, and some agencies ‘over-service’ the pitch process by trying to engage with the client teams too frequently and distracting themselves and the client teams from the main task.  The Pitch Positive Pledge is a valuable initiative and marketers, agencies and intermediaries such as ourselves should continue to build awareness of the Pledge and insist that its principles are embedded in every pitch.  There’s been too much emphasis on doing pitches faster – in our view they need to be done better and more positively.

Following the principles of the Pitch Positive Pledge should enable and support two other key macro factors – sustainability and talent.  Tackling sustainability first…

Sustainability considerations in the pitch process

In 2023 we’d expect to see evidence of sustainability considerations becoming a much more significant element in the pitch process.  In the main, sustainability credentials have been an important, but sometimes a tick-box exercise in the agency selection process.  Understanding how agencies plan to reduce the environmental impact of the communications development, production and activation process, and how they will support clients to achieve the same, will become a much more significant part of the selection criteria and differentiation between agencies.  Expect to see sustainability measures feature more prominently in the pitch brief itself rather than just the RFI stage.

Resourcing and agency talent concerns have been a consistent feature over the last 18-24 months, and this will continue to be an important area to focus on.  Concerns highlighted by the IPA indicate the marketing and communications industry suffers from lack of trust and the fact that salaries are not keeping pace with other sectors suggests that problems of recruitment will continue.  Nurturing talent and focusing on well-being will be even more essential.

So, all in all, 2023 looks set to be a challenging year, for existing as well as new business where the conversation needs to stay focused on demonstrable business and brand growth.  Agencies will succeed if they stay selective, participating only in well run pitch processes that allow them to play to their strengths; take the lead in demonstrating actionable sustainability initiatives to support their clients; and focus on nurturing and retaining the talent in their agency which, after all, gives them their competitive edge.

Article first published by Creative Salon

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