Amid the pandemic, the traditional process of pitching is starting to feel increasingly inhumane, argues Julie Cohen, founder and chief executive of global creative agency Across the Pond.
When Covid-19 began, marketers shuddered at the thought of flogging products in the same way.
Everything turned towards helpfulness and in-it togetherness. We clapped for our healthcare workers, went to the shops for our elderly neighbours and made a point of supporting local businesses. We checked in with friends, family, coworkers and clients alike; human check-ins topped the agenda every time.
Brands too were keen to show their support. With messages of togetherness and often with real acts that could make a difference. And, of course, as agencies, we helped them to communicate these messages.
I can’t be the only one having had these solemn, quiet moments of reflection during this period. But I've been thinking about where this helpfulness begins and ends. Surely we should be helping each other. Brands need agencies and agencies need brands. Don’t we want to see our industry as self-respecting and tonally appropriate for the times? Or do we want to keep going around the ringer with a flurry of media, creative and project pitches?
Our decision to ditch the pitch, a few years ago, was born of a recognition of the value of our staff, and the long-term benefit for all collaborative and supportive partnerships. Today, this rings more true than ever.
This time last year, we experienced some of the darkest days I ever wish to experience in business or in life. As a small agency, we had to make some big decisions very quickly and without a lot of information. We decided to favour humanity; to stick it out together and not to make any redundancies.
Everybody came together, around a new, singular focus of helping our clients to stay one step ahead. Proactive thinking happened day and night from anyone and everyone: reworking formats to keep projects Covid-Safe; offering up new and different ways we could help each and every client. Morale was high; everyone was in it together in order to survive. The team felt (relatively) safe and valued. Our clients benefited enormously. The ‘in it to win it’ energy was palpable.
Pitching may be fun, at times - the rush of it; the bonding in the trenches, the togetherness of the team on the day; it can even become addictive. But like all addictions, it's not actually good for you. Not good for your health, mental health and certainly not for your soul. If you pitch, inevitably, you win some but you lose more.
The idea that your work might not ever be real or worthwhile; the futility of it all has, in our experience, a negative effect on job satisfaction, confidence, overall well being - and - the work. This is the polar opposite of that amazing feeling of solidarity when working with a client to get to a solution - and then repeated to see their business grow.
The traditional pitch process is counterproductive in getting the best out of the relationships we all invest so much in. There's so much waste.
This isn’t a battle cry to get people to jump on the bandwagon. I hope it’s just a reminder that there is another way. Before it was a choice between getting in the game for a win or not. Now it feels much bigger. What kind of industry do we spend our lives in? And for those who take issue with all this working for free (unlike ANY OTHER industry), what are we going to do about it? 'If not me, then who? If not now, then when?'.
The pandemic has shaken things up - businesses the world over have pivoted with impressive, innovative new approaches, products and services. Our industry can benefit hugely from broadening our thinking about this utterly archaic tradition. At its worst, pitching is a time-sucking game of master/slave just to see what we’ll get when the whistle blows. Whereas sitting down with all the brand knowledge, history, shorthand, established relationships and cutting out the theatre must surely be a faster, more efficient route to the gold.
If agencies want to continue pitching, that's fine. For those that have sat in the quiet of their homes with this uncomfortable feeling, asking themselves what kind of industry practices we are upholding; I want to keep talking about how there is another way.
There are lots of pros and cons, and ups and downs. It's not easy - and neither is pitching in a pandemic - but it is possible to do things differently.