Recent trade press reports indicated that the IPA was limbering up to produce an abuse-reducing ‘pitch charter’ for agencies and clients. But haven’t we been this way before, at least twice?
Topic: Pitching for business
Who: The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising
Where: The UK
When: January 2004
It was reported that the "New Business Group" of the ad agency trade body the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising was putting together a pitch charter for clients and agencies in order to establish best practice.
The idea is to cover all aspects of pitching, including the number of agencies that should pitch, the ownership of intellectual property and timescales.
According to the relevant reports, agencies are increasingly fed up with advertisers who are regarded as not playing fair in the pitching process. Indeed some agencies were getting so disgruntled that around 20 of them were reported to be banding together to draw up an unofficial black list of companies and their marketing directors who had behaved badly in the past, so that they would be boycotted in the future.
Practices the agencies wanted to stamp out included recycling through the winning agency advertising concepts presented by one of the agencies that failed to get the business, agreeing a fee with the agency before the pitch and then trying to beat the winning agency down, imposing unrealistic timescales to give pitch presentations, then taking months to make a decision and then announcing the outcome of the pitch to the press first rather than to the winning and losing agencies.
Why this matters:
This all sounds very laudable, although clients will not doubt want to have their say so far as the blacklist is concerned and as regards any best practice guidelines.
The other point is that this is not a new idea. Far from it. In fact, we have been this way before at least twice.
In November 1995, amidst great fanfares and launching conferences, the IPA and advertiser trade body the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers ("ISBA") announced a joint "ISBA/IPA" ten point pitch guide. This covered all the angles which we have just been talking about, including, for example, rules that no more than three agencies should be allowed onto a pitch list and that clients should contribute towards pitch costs.
By 1999, however, it was clear that despite the fine words, the parsnips had not been buttered and the guide had done little good. A survey conducted by the Results business consultancy indicated that too many agency/client marriages were still hitting the rocks because the courtships had been too swift and were not taken seriously enough, with "rogue" pitches still a fact of life.
By May 2001 the clamour for something to be done had got even louder, with Campaign calling for naming and shaming of the serial offenders of the client community by the IPA posting on its website the pitch histories of advertisers currently reviewing their accounts.
This clearly prodded some of the main industry bodies into action, because by July of the following year in 2002, another set of guidelines for the pitching process had been published. This time it was across various advertising and marketing disciplines and underwritten by the DMA, the IPA, the ISBA, the MCCA and the PRCA. This guide extended beyond the pitching process alone and covered the whole "agency search, selection and relationship management" matrix.
So here we are, nearly three years on, and again the cycle has come full circle and more pitch guidelines are being talked about, with one thing becoming increasingly certain, which is that guidelines on their own are no use whatsoever if nobody bothers to follow them.