Stop the PR pitch madness

Last week, when Confused.com decided to pay some of the losing agencies in its pitch process for the ideas that they came up with, the company was roundly applauded by the PR industry. "At last," people cried, "a recognition that creative ideas are valuable." Fair enough. Clive at Bite wants to know how you put a price on a great idea, rightly pointing out that the value of a brilliant piece of creative will likely outstrip the two minutes in the shower it took to come up with it. I know for a fact, for instance, that Marmite's 'Love it or hate it' strapline was the result of a five minute stationery cupboard meeting between an advertising executive and a 22-year old intern (that's a complete lie, by the way).

Of course, it might have been nice for Confused.com's Kelly Davies to offer to pay agencies before the pitches took place, but then of course she wouldn't have known whether they'd come up with any decent ideas would she? And you know agencies…lazy buggers would have gone through the motions and just picked up the cash.

If nothing else, the novelty of Confused.com's action serves to highlight how happy the PR industry still is to give away what should be its most valuable assets: creative and strategic thinking. It really should stop, but when even the biggest, most successful firms haven't got the bollocks to change things, it won't.

Imagine this scenario (hypothetical, before Kevin McCloud gets all excited). I want to get a new house built, so I'll need an architect. I do some research online…talk to people who've had houses built…maybe even get in touch with the Royal Institute of British Architects (or, more likely, the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Architectes). Having done that, I'll have a list of a handful that I'll meet. At those meetings they'll show me some of the houses that they've built previously, give me some references, show me their professional qualifications and I'll tell them a bit about what I'm after.

Now, what do you think will happen if, after these meetings, I pick my three favourite architects (let's call this my 'shortlist') and ask them all to come back in, oooh, 10 days' time and show me the plans for my new house? That's right, the fully worked up and costed plans…plus a timeline that they'll commit to. I imagine my brief would have been OK…I'd like four bedrooms, big kitchen, double-garage, playroom for the kids and an en-suite…so I'd have thought any architect worth her salt would be able to hit the nail on the head first time, wouldn't she?

No? Sir Norman Foster said what?! What sort of language is that for a Knight of the Realm to use..?

The thing is or course, I wouldn't expect that to happen because I'm bright enough to know that to get the plans I want…to get the house of my dreams…is going to take a while longer.

And yet this is what clients ask PR agencies to do all the time. And before we all happily sit back and point the finger at those unreasonable clients, they do it because PR agencies are happy to respond. This merry dance takes two.

Funny thing is, how many times have you heard an existing client say, "we should start next year's planning as early as possible…give ourselves the time to get the strategy right, define the positioning, come up with some really strong creative…"? 

Yes, we should. So why when we pitched for this account did you force us to do the same job in a week and a half?

Pitches can be incredibly distracting and stressful for the people involved. So, Mr Client, when we win your business through a stressful and distracting process, will you be happy when your new account team becomes equally stressed and distracted when the next pitch comes along? Thought not.

Pitches should be banned. Agencies should get much better at presenting credentials and references and have the confidence to decline to pitch valuable creative ideas that in the main (and even if you win, for crying out loud!) you're almost certain not to get paid for.

If a client can't decide on which agency to use based on reputation, experience, previous work, references, team…without needing to know exactly 'what you would do for us'…then they're an idiot, frankly, and shouldn't be in the job.

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38 thoughts on “Stop the PR pitch madness

  1. Stuart Bruce says:

    Good points, well made. But we were having exactly the same conversations 20 years when I first came into public relations. It didn’t change then and is unlikely to change now.

    • Mark says:

      …which is possibly one of the reasons why PR has consistently failed to find a permanent place at the top table, no? When we undervalue our own work, should we be surprised when clients do too?

  2. Funnily enough I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and used exactly the same architecture example! You’re absolutely right though, it’s a bizarre situation that agencies are unfortunately only too willing to participate in.

    …I suppose it comes down to the fact that the risks involved in an architectural project going wrong (death, serious injury etc. etc.) are much greater than a PR campaign going belly up (Bad Pitch blog savages your press release).

  3. mdubash says:

    Works the same in journalism: give us your ideas for features…

  4. Duncan says:

    Mark, spot on as usual. We are in a very strange situation with regard this and nicely put. See you still haven’t lost your way with words.

    Cheers

    Duncan

  5. SimonM says:

    I went and pitched for some new business a couple of weeks ago for a client that hadn’t really much idea of PR. They had no marketing strategy, let alone a PR strategy but were asking me to come up with some tactics nonetheless. When I told them I would be happy to develop a marketing/pr strategy for them (for a fee of course) – they balked, telling me that several other agencies had been very happy to come up with ideas to pitch.

    My pitch mainly consisted of telling them why they needed a strategy along with why my team were the right ones to develop it for them.

    It looks like the business will be ours (after some haggling, of course), though. Strangely enough playing ‘hard to get’ seemed to pay off – clients aren’t used to being told “no we won’t give you our ideas for free”. I think what clinched it was pointing out to them how they themselves win business (which as you said, doesn’t involve giving away the whole thing gratis).

    Ultimately I think if you can talk to clients as business people rather than just someone who needs a bit of coverage in the Times they tend to respect you more.

    • Mark says:

      Good for you Simon. I’ve worked with a lot of start-ups and found that this is often the only approach that works. It’s also one that they tend to respect.

    • Janet says:

      Simon,

      My MD insisted I do the same thing with the in-house marketing team at a recent pitch. Feeling quite nervous at this prospect, the very first words out of my mouth were ‘we’re not going to give you our ideas for free.’ I couldn’t, and still can’t, believe that I actually said that in a meeting, it felt unprofessional but oddly liberating. Anyway, things have progressed quite nicely, and unusually, from that date…

      I’d also like to point out that my MD has actually (as unbelievable as it sounds) asked me to request that architects and interior designers pitch some ideas for a job and they DID… but that’s a whole different story.

      J.

  6. Kelly Davies says:

    Thanks for writing about me. I love all this attention. I’d rather be getting it for being the new member of the Sugarbabes but I can’t have it all I suppose *sigh*

    So while I’m pleased to have ignited such a debate in the PR world, let’s put this into perspective. The ideas that I am considering offering money for aren’t massive creative platforms for a whole host of PR executions. They are, in essence, smaller stories and research ideas/ tactics that I feel we could use in the press office specifically for the PF pages. The (in our opinion) massively creative, brilliant, eye-watering, goose-bumpy ideas were presented by Cake and that’s why they won the account (along with their attention to detail, preparation, research, inspiring team, credibility and general all-round awesome attitude). The pitch was the best platform for them to show us what they had!

    I felt some of the ideas presented by some of the losing agencies had merit and I didn’t want to see them just fall by the wayside if we could use them. What’s the point in that? I’d hope the ideas wouldn’t be presented again by the losing agencies to other potential clients (kind of debunks your assumption that PR’S most valuable assets are creative and strategic thinking – not a very creative and strategic industry if it just recycles ideas). Why not try and use them if we can and why not do the right thing and offer some money for this privilege?

    So I’m an idiot for not being able to choose an agency based on reputation, experience, previous work, references and team? I think I’m an idiot if I didn’t see how the agencies can respond to a brief, how they go about researching, how much effort they put in to it, how good they are at coming up with unique and interesting concepts, how able they are to convince a group of people, who think they know their business better than anyone else, that while said group may know its business better than anyone else – the agency can translate that into a PR strategy better than anyone else.

    Not all agencies are suited to all clients and a pitch is much more than just presenting a load of ideas. It’s about feeling the passion, the hunger and although I hate the phrase, the ‘chemistry’. I’m not going to choose an agency based on a creds pitch. For me that’s akin to buying a pair of shoes without trying them on. I have done this on many occasions and I always end up taking them back.

    If someone is going to try and come up with a formula for the value of ideas good luck to them but I think it’s a waste of time. Who actually knows what’s a good idea or a bad idea? Going to the pub on a Sunday night for 10 pints may seem like a great idea, yet you get really drunk, don’t turn up for work and get sacked. Suddenly it was an awful idea. The outcome is the only thing that determines if the idea is good or not so unless the formula includes this and agreements for the way the idea should be executed (for reference only drink two pints with a glass of water in-between and two Nurofen before bed) then I think it’s all pointless.

    And yes pitches are time-consuming and stressful (I have been on the other side) but we’re not saving lives here are we? While it’s down to the client to understand what’s reasonable (I gave over a month for pitch preparation) agencies need to manage their time better (some agencies didn’t start asking questions until 2 weeks before) or try and set some guidelines about how long is needed for a pitch and stick by them.

    Long live the pitch!

    • Mark says:

      Crumbs, there’s so much here Kelly I don’t really know where to start…

      I’m not sure you ignited the debate, rather fanned the flames of one that’s never too far from the surface. I don’t think you’re an idiot, of course not. And when agencies are more than happy to throw their valuable IP at sexy new business, why not let them?

      You say you’re not going to choose an agency on a creds pitch, but also say it’s ‘about feeling the passion, the hunger and although I hate the phrase, the ‘chemistry’’ These are all things that should come across in a creds pitch, surely? I’m also not sure your shoe analogy works. Unless you consider PR an off-the-shelf commodity. I’d rather compare it to buying a bespoke tailored suit.

      I fully agree that an agency should be tested, and that – as some of the other commenters have noted – hypothetical challenges to see how the team works can be really useful. So in many ways for me to say that PR pitches should be banned was simply a provocative statement (who’d have thought?!) Agencies need to be able to sell themselves, sure, but should be able to do so without thinking they need to give away valuable IP.

      I also agree that it isn’t easy to place a value on ideas…but to say that until you have an outcome you don’t know one way or the other is madness! If you honestly believe that then you’ve not only contradicted yourself in saying why Cake was appointed (‘massively creative, brilliant, eye-watering, goose-bumpy ideas’), but you’ve also hired an agency without actually knowing whether their ideas are good or bad.

      Which kind of renders the pitch process irrelevant.

      • Kelly Davies says:

        You say you’re not going to choose an agency on a creds pitch, but also say it’s ‘about feeling the passion, the hunger and although I hate the phrase, the ‘chemistry’’ These are all things that should come across in a creds pitch, surely?

        Well maybe they should but not all agencies presented their full teams at the creds stage, many wheeled at the senior bods who would never work on the account and one just sent their new biz director who didn’t have the first idea what we did. Some creds were okay but I felt some of the team wouldn’t be the best fit, so asked for a some changes. Maybe the industry needs to consider the way they do creds pitches? I went to 15+ and some were shocking.

        I’m also not sure your shoe analogy works. Unless you consider PR an off-the-shelf commodity. I’d rather compare it to buying a bespoke tailored suit.

        It works as badly as your architect one.

        I fully agree that an agency should be tested, and that – as some of the other commenters have noted – hypothetical challenges to see how the team works can be really useful. So in many ways for me to say that PR pitches should be banned was simply a provocative statement (who’d have thought?!) Agencies need to be able to sell themselves, sure, but should be able to do so without thinking they need to give away valuable IP.

        Above and beyond the ‘ideas’ it was about seeing how the team responded to the brief, how well they interacted with us, how they interpreted the brief, how they went about actually delivering the brief. I’m buying in to the people, the team, the reputation, the passion etc. The ideas were important as they came up with ideas that were so different from some of the other agencies, but feeling confident they have the ability to think so creatively was more important – and yes I agree there’s value here and that’s one they won the account.

        I still don’t know if the ideas will work though – I’m no psychic – I just think (and hope) they will. Are you telling me every idea you’ve ever had in PR has ALWAYS been successful? Always worked? Always got a brilliant result?

        And ‘give away’ valuable IP – what else are they going to use the ideas, they’ve thought of esepcially for us and as we know, been highly stressed about and spent so much time on? Oh agencies use ideas they’ve thought of before for other potential clients do they? Oh..yes… very valuable.

        I also agree that it isn’t easy to place a value on ideas…but to say that until you have an outcome you don’t know one way or the other is madness! If you honestly believe that then you’ve not only contradicted yourself in saying why Cake was appointed (’massively creative, brilliant, eye-watering, goose-bumpy ideas’), but you’ve also hired an agency without actually knowing whether their ideas are good or bad.

        I don’t think it is madness. I THINK, that their ideas were beyond good. But seriously, who actually knows until we try them, we could be completely wrong. Who knew that little quick Marmite meeting in the stationary cupboard would turn out the way it did? And I know many people (in both advertising and PR) thought the Meerkat was a terrible idea. So yes their ideas were a big part of why they were appointed but not the only reason.

        So if clients start paying for ideas (in terms of their perceived worth) they want to use from PR pitches – do they also get their money back if they don’t work and a further rebate for all of the time/effort/other collateral spent on them?

      • Kelly Davies says:

        Stationery cupboard. Rather. I hope Cake is good at proofing as well as idea generation 😉

      • Pedantboy says:

        Kelly, ever heard that phrase, when you’re in a hole, stop digging????

  7. jon clements says:

    Mark
    Do I detect you feel strongly about this? Thought so.
    This is my personal view rather than my employer’s, but I was one of those who felt it was fair enough for Confused.com to pay losing agencies for their ideas. Why? Because I’ve never seen such a thing in 12 years of agency pitching and (depending on the price, naturally) why not walk away from the process with a few quid rather than abject bitterness about the days spent coming up with that “winning” pitch. However, on the other hand, it’s perhaps a bad precedent to set as companies could end up with countless great ideas on the cheap and put us all out of a job.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your main premise about pitches being banned. And I say this not just from the agency standpoint; clients would benefit far more from choosing an agency to work with based on deeper reasons than a 60-90 minute “song and dance act” from a collection of agencies.
    If companies could start the process earlier and spend more time helping a decent agency to understand its business and get under the skin of its objectives, the net result stands the chance of being much better and mutually beneficial. It’s not unknown for client briefs to omit clear objectives altogether, but that may be because those doing the briefing can’t get clear direction from the heart of their own organisation. That’s why working collaboratively with an agency to help pinpoint the real business/communications challenges is much better than pitting several agencies against each other on the back of a vague brief. Yes, there’s the risk of investing in one relationship which might falter along the way; but is that any riskier than signing a 12-month contract with someone based on a slick presentation and something as nebulous as “chemistry”?
    It’s with hindsight I can say that long term client/agency relationships can work extremely well. The pitch process has short-termism hot wired into it, which leads to churn that helps nobody.

    • Mark says:

      Spot on Jon.

      • Mark Hanson says:

        Agreed. Good post Mark, excellent comment Jon.

        and nice gesture Kelly – it put the whole issue of agency’s time and efforts being valkued on the agenda.

        Pitching costs thousands and thousands of pounds of time for each agency….only for some clients to decide that they’re going to have a strategic look at whether they should have an agency after all.

  8. I sympathise with where you’re coming from, but having sat the other side of the fence as well (in house) people’s reputations aren’t always what they are cracked up to be, and it’s almost impossible to pinpoint whether someone who worked on a previous campaign within that agency will actually be on your account.

    I once held a credentials pitch (yes, just creds, no creative work required) where agencies were asked to introduce us to the teams that they would put in for a company like ours (an upstart telco) as a way for us to shortlist who we allowed to tender.

    The people I expected to be most creative disappointed hugely – their ad guys had done a great job for them in the PR titles.

    A large London agency decided that because we were in Reading the team from provincial Oxford would be best, and sent along a guy whose suit didn’t fit and who hadn’t brushed his hair. (Sorry, but that can’t be arsed to wash look may work for celebs, but it’s SO hard to pull off in the real world) The girls who took the brief and had made the ‘ooh, ahhh, we really love what you’re doing’ noises were from the London office.

    By using the reputation criteria, in house PRs may miss out on some of the shining lights who sit behind campaigns rather than becoming the PR story themselves.

    And you may not catch some of the smaller, creative independents that won’t ever adorn the pages of PR Week because they’re too small (and often creating miracles for their also small clients)

    I just don’t think the analogy with the architect works. As PR consultancies, we don’t just ‘design’ a campaign – we have to be the housebuilder too. And whilst you might take your architect on trust, you would never let a housebuilder start work until you had a pretty clear idea of what you were going to get and how much it would cost.

    I agree that it’s a system that needs some review, but in the same way as agencies/consultancies get reputations, so too do clients. I can name a fair few that I would never encourage anyone to pitch for.

    Perhaps the answer is more openness/sharing amongst PR consultancies, something we have all, traditionally, found hard in the past?

    Or is that as likely to succeed as a Katie and Peter reunion?

    • Mark says:

      Good points. I do think, though, that PR acts as both architect and housebuilder (and, in fact, project manager, which Mr McCloud’s always very keen on). Problem is, we give away the sexy architecture bit and just get paid for laying bricks.

      I think I should stop with the analogies.

  9. James Newman says:

    I agree with the sentiment of this, however, I don’t believe the approach should be about getting better at presenting credentials or pushing back at pitch timings and deadlines, the real opportunity for PR is to prove its strategic worth in the mix. By proving our worth at the ‘top table’ only then will we be given the respect.

    PR has its greatest opportunity to date to steal share from the ‘gatekeepers’ of strategy. The balance of power between brands and consumers has shifted. Consumers, now powered by social media tools, have changed the rules of the game. It is them who are creating brands not ad companies.

    The traditional advertising ‘comand and control’ model is no longer relevant. Embracing consumers, having a two way dialogue and giving them a greater say in the way your business operates is paradoxically, the most effective way to manage your corporate destiny.

    James

    “If you spoke to people like advertisers speak to people, you’d get punched”.

    • Mark says:

      James, this is all true. But how does PR get there? How does it prove our worth at the top table when it’s rarely if ever invited?

  10. Stuart Bruce says:

    I don’t think I’d go as far as to say pitches are a bad idea. They can and do work some of the time. But they work best when it’s about something small and more specific. You can’t do justice to a strategy in a new business process. For a start no matter how much research you do you can’t know the client well enough. We’re doing one at the moment where the client is asking us to re-examine and old campaign (that didn’t work as well as it had hoped/been told it would!) They want to see how we would approach it. That will give them an insight into our way of thinking/working so they can pay the winning consultancy to develop some proper strategic ideas. Another approach that I like is where you’re given a ‘fictitious’ brief in the room and the client observes your team interacting and discussing how it will respond, based on nothing more than raw brain power and your existing knowledge of the client’s market. Your pitch is created in front of their eyes, so no room for smoke and mirrors with the actual team.

  11. Alex Myers says:

    Nice post – but you sot of miss the point when talking about reputation, experience and creds. New agencies don’t have the creds – they just have the ideas that could blow the big boys out of the water. If pitches were left to creds and experience, then the likes of H&K, Weber and Edelman would win everything. And we might as well kiss goodbye to innovative PR.

    I agree (shockingly) with Stuart Bruce that the best approach is to use a brief, either fictitious or previous, meaning the creativity is tested without the potential of ideas being swiped or undervalued.

    • Mark says:

      New agencies must have some creds…at an individual if not organisational level. Take FIRE for instance – brand new but highly credible due to the experience of Stu Campbell and the team he’s put together. And to suggest that innovative PR only comes out of small new agencies is naive.

      But yeah, I agree with Brucie on the fictitious brief thing too.

  12. Gabbi Cahane says:

    Clients are not the issue, agencies are.

    By giving away their ‘product’ for free, they show the client exactly how much value they place on it. None.

    Every time we pitch, win or lose, there is a cost to the agency. They can be hard costs such as producing beautiful pitch material; staff time – running into tens of thousands of pounds; resources being spread too thinly on existing client projects; the cost to morale; and fundamentally the way the agency is valued by the prospect.

    By giving away time, and more importantly expertise without any payment, the agency clearly shows the lack of value it places on its own services. Once a client knows the agency is willing to work for free it becomes harder to convince them to pay appropriate fees for future work. The agency may even win the business, but it has impaired its ability to turn a healthy profit on it.

    Believe it or not, free pitching can be avoided.

    After meeting Blair Enns from winwithoutpitching.com four years ago I have put into practice a number of techniques that challenge the conventional wisdom around winning new business. I can safely say that if you are brave enough to commit to even a few of these golden rules, you will reap the rewards in a very short space of time. I certainly have. You may even contribute to ridding the world of this evil blemish…

    Twelve proclamations lifted from the Win Without Pitching Manifesto that may be of interest to those of you that fancy taking up the challenge.

    1. We will specialize. We will acknowledge that it is the availability of substitutes – the legitimate alternatives to the offerings of our firm – that robs us of power and allows the client to ask us for, and often compels us to give away for free, our most valuable product. If we are not seen as more specialized, more creative or otherwise more expert than our competition then we are viewed as one in a sea of many and we have little power in our relationships with our clients and clients-to-be.

    2. We will replace presentations with conversations. We will break free of our addiction to the Big Reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. When we pitch we are in part satisfying our craving for this adrenaline and we understand that until we break ourselves of this addiction we will never be free of the Pitch. ‘Presentation,’ like ‘pitch,’ is a word that we will leave behind as we seek conversations and collaboration in their place.

    3. We will do with words what we used to do with paper. We will understand that proposals are the words that come out of our mouths and that written documentation of such proposals are contracts-items that need be created only once an agreement has been reached. We will examine all the reasons we ask, and are asked, to write unpaid proposals and we will never again ask documents to propose for us what we ourselves should propose.

    4. We will seek to better understand the client. We will search for the client’s motivation in asking us to pitch and once we understand this motivation we will develop new means to address it. We will remember that the purpose of meeting with clients-to-be is not to pitch, impress or persuade, but to determine a fit between the two parties. The basis of determining this fit is in understanding the client and their need.

    5. We will build expertise rapidly. We will position ourselves as narrowly focused experts and we will develop skills, capabilities and processes to deepen our expertise and put distance between us and our competition, for if we are not seen as expert advisors we will be seen as order-takers, with the commensurate remuneration and respect. In pursuit of developing our expertise we will not be lured into the trap of aspiring to ‘partner’ with our clients, for we understand that partners are merely likeable order-takers – firms that have not yet achieved the status of expert advisor.

    6. We will make continuous learning mandatory. In our firm all principals and personnel will endeavor to continually deepen their expertise and management will recognize its obligation to support such efforts. We will ensure that everyone in the firm understands that the market is evolving quickly and if we are not evolving apace then we are being left behind, as individuals and collectively as a firm.

    7. We will be selective. Instead of seeking clients we will selectively and respectfully pursue ‘perfect fits’ – those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say ‘no’ early and often, weeding out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By using ‘no’ we will give power and credibility to our ‘yes’.

    8. We will not solve problems without being financially engaged. Under no circumstances will we part with our thinking without appropriate compensation, for our thinking is our highest value product and if we demonstrate that we do not value it, our clients will not. When we are asked to begin solving problems in the buying cycle we will politely but firmly point out that we save our best thinking for our paying clients and should the client-to-be choose to engage us they can rest assured that our best minds will be working on their business rather than on winning business that we do not currently have.

    9. We will address issues of money early. We will never again put ourselves in a position where we have over-invested in a relationship only to find that the client-to-be cannot afford to pay us what we are worth. We will set a minimum level of engagement and declare it early in conversations with our clients-to-be so that in the event they cannot afford us both parties will be able to walk away early without wasting valuable resources. We will keep in mind the Win Without Pitching Rule of Money: Those who cannot talk money, do not make money.

    10. We will refuse to accept work at a loss. We will build this firm one profitable assignment at a time. Excepting our carefully selected pro bono engagements and the occasional favor to our very best and longest standing clients, every project will generate a profit that recognizes our expertise and the value we bring to our clients’ businesses. There will be no loss leaders. We will pursue margin objectives first and then work to add volume at our newer, higher margin.

    11. We will charge more. As our expertise deepens and our impact on our clients’ businesses grows we will evolve our pricing to reflect that impact. We will recognize that to our clients the smallest invoices are the most annoying. Through charging more we will create more time to think on behalf of our clients and we will eliminate the need to invoice for changes and other surprises.

    12. We will hold our heads high. We will see ourselves as professional practitioners who are hired to bring real solutions to our clients’ business problems. We will not grovel. We will not be coerced. We will understand that in accordance with all of the above anyone who insists that we devalue our product or compromise our values is not someone we would have as a client. We will seek respect above money, for only when we are respected as experts will we be paid the money we seek. This money will allow us to reinvest in ourselves, become even better at what we do and deliver to ourselves and our families the abundance we deserve.

  13. […] Payment-for-pitching is back on the agenda in the PR industry after offered to pay agencies for their ideas post pitch.PR Week reported last week that Confused.com […]

  14. You use architecture as a model for how payment-for-pitches might be applied to the PR industry. I’ve found an example closer to home.

    The D&AD was set up in 1960s by the advertising and design industry to celebrative creative communication, reward its practitioners, and raise standards.

    The D&AD seeks to protect intellectual property in pitches through fair payment for work. It has also created a series of effectiveness awards that test objectives, strategy, tactics and measureable outcomes. The awards are a meaningful benchmark for campaigns in the design industry against which an agency and its creative work can be judged.

    Could this be a model that the PR industry could adapt via the CIPR or the PRCA to enforce pay-to-pitch and create standardised benchmarks?

    • SimonM says:

      I was thinking about this too – but it feels like the big barrier is cost. Ad campaigns can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds up to millions (once you figure in the actual media spend). So paying a small percentage of that for a pitch seems reasonable. When a PR campaign costs a fraction of that then I think it would only make sense for the the biggest clients to shell out.

      How much would anyone pay you to pitch for a £3k/month account? £300? I can’t see that being more than a token gesture and certainly wouldn’t cover the actual cost of pitching.

      Having read through the comments, I think the best idea would be for agencies of any size to make it clear they will only pitch if they are provided with clear objectives, a defined budget and sufficient time to understand their potential client’s business. Standardising the process would be more effective and far easier to implement than trying to change the cost structure.

  15. Countryboy says:

    I posted this on Bite Marks on the same debate… for me it’s not as much about the process and more about the budgets/ fees paid to do the job to make it all worth it (although that said you should never have more than three pitching). I got out of front line PR because of clients all too often taking the piss by placing a huge amount of value in PR and then devoting naff-all budget and a 22 year old PR ‘manager’ to it and expecting us to work for little or nothing and then spending most of the time bleating on about how disappointed they are. These days, PR takes on a huge role in communications and your job is never done, unlike other marketing professions that get paid far more handsomely. And no, as one person has pointed out in this debate, we don’t sit around drinking coffee, we reguarly pull off little magic tricks – setting out a comms strategy, and instead of running a nice little ad that says what we want to say, we have to translate what we want to say into something that we hope someone else will say in their own language, beit a journo, a blogger or someone in the pub. Try coming up with ideas that do that day in day out – it ain’t easy and we should be paid our weight in gold for it, not the usual 5k per month peanuts. I’d like to know what kind of range the monthly retainer fees are that Confused.com has committed.

  16. […] Mark Pinsent are niste obiectii : Pitch-urile n-ar trebui sa existe. Agentiile ar trebui sa devina foarte bune in prezentarea de credentials si sa aiba puterea de a refuza furnizarea unor idei creative intr-un pitch pentru care o sa fii sigur ca nu o sa fii platit pentru asta. […]

  17. Nicky Imrie says:

    Hi Mark

    Spot on! It’s all linked to the over-servicing / under-billing issue endemic in the industry.

    Now I’m running my own business, I’ve been astonished about how the various professional services firms we work with have dared to send in bills for – get this – the time they’ve actually spent! Not the time they originally quoted based on our loose brief, but the time they actually invested in applying their learned minds to our affairs. While I don’t agree with charging £200 for opening an envelope (you know who you are), I have never understood how PR agencies refuse to address huge over-servicing of big accounts. This completely skews the fee structure and devalues the consultancy on offer (and burns out staff fast).

    That’s why no premium is placed on PR and clients think they can buy us off.

  18. Michele H says:

    Since becoming a sole consultant over four years ago I have never been into a competitive pitch situation (well once actually but I just went in and talked to them – didn’t bother with fancy Power Points and the like AND I won the business!).
    As a one woman band I simply don’t have the time or the resources. But I’ve still managed to pick up plenty of work through word of mouth and recommendation – PR is all about reputation and therefore my reputation is what gets me work.
    If a potential client approaches me I am happy to put together an outline of what I can offer, some client and media testimonials, details of previous experience etc and then it’s up to them – they can meet me and if they like me we can sign a contract ang get going and only at this stage will I start putting together a strategy and detailing creative campaign idea. Couldn’t afford to do otherwise.
    Works for me!

    • Andy Turner says:

      I’ll second Michelle H’s comments – never pitched openly for business in 11 years as a sole consultant. Pitching costs a lot in wasted time and saps the energy of account teams who would be better deployed spending time with clients who are already paying the agency. It just needs major league clients to stop organising them – everyone else will soon fall into line.

  19. Matt says:

    Coming to this late….Working in-house, the approach that we have taken with PR agencies is to ‘trial’ the ones that we like (either through some work they have done which we’ve noticed or becuase they have come to us with a specific idea which we have liked and bought). We don’t do pitches – they call, we ask them why they’re calling, if they offer something other than ‘we’d really like to talk to you’ (you’d be amazed how many agency staff say that to me – to which my reply is ‘of course you would, I spend millions each year on PR and you want some of it’), we may pay attention and agree to meet..and we’ll take it from there…no pitches – they’re largely a waste everyone’s time and create an unreal situation.

    Two of our biggest PR executions this year have come from agencies coming to us with great ideas – both of which we’re investing heavily in.

  20. […] flamin’ blog As if you’re interested. « Stop the PR pitch madness Stop the PR pitch madness, part II…the nine point plan September 24, 2009 So the […]

  21. […] is key to attracting graduate marketers Five innovations in news journalism, thanks to the web Stop the PR pitch madness No Locks No Gates Proof! Mobile microbloggers are […]

  22. […] blog ) PR agencies for some of their ideas. Mark Pinsent has stirred a fantastic discussion with a post about how the pitch process is dead. There’s some great content in the comments including a great […]

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