P i t c h i n g   a n d   t e n d e r s

Don’t call me. Why pitching and tenders are for the second-rate. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. For anyone working in the creative services industry, Dicken’s famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities applies to The Pitch.
Pitching is a fact of life, whether you are a PR agency, a digital agency, an ad agency or a film production company. Otherwise known as a Beauty Parade, a pitch is simply when a client organisation lines up a number of competing suppliers and expects them to come up with a strategy and creative ideas all for nothing. The winning agency gets the work. The losers get nothing. It’s a time-honoured process and ubiquitous within the industry.
For employees, pitching can be very exciting. Working late into the night, seeing your ideas come to life quickly and then the thrill of winning is very similar to the primal thrill of the chase. For the management of the agency, the pitch is rather different. Usually, pitches involve four or five suppliers (any more is a waste of everyone’s time). That means by the law of averages, an agency could expect to win one in (say) four pitches. So the pitch that wins has to pay for the other three. Pitching is expensive: it ties up costly personnel and the presentation itself will have a direct cost for the agency. Someone has to pay and unless the agency wants to go out of business, it’s the agency’s other clients that share the costs in the form of generally inflated fees.
For this reason, I hate pitches. Not only do they make my business more expensive for a client to commission, they demand ideas to be developed quickly. Usually much more quickly than is comfortable. I find that ideas form quite slowly. A flash of inspiration is one thing, but only careful consideration will allow it to shine and demonstrate how robust it is. There’s another reason I hate pitches. They rely on the judgement of the client company. But surely (you say) a Marketing Team has to judge your creative proposals whether or not they were produced in a competitive pitch? Yes, but when faced with four competing ideas, the team may simply choose either the idea which is the most obvious (which is not necessarily the right one) the safest (almost certainly not the right one) or the flashiest (definitely not the right one). Careful consideration gets hidden in the heat of the moment.
Worst of all is tenders. Beloved of the Public Sector, a tender is issued as if marketing services was a new building or a contract to provide school meals. Most public authorities hide behind the hideous European Procurement Directive. They also add that “it’s the public’s money, so we are obliged to be careful in awarding contracts”, as if private companies behave with a cavalier attitude to their shareholders’ and investors’ cash.
Tenders are issued with a hideous string of additional hurdles to jump. You find yourself writing a Diversity Statement and trying to add up points for each section of your submission. You have to present all “relevant experience” knowing that the procurement team has absolutely no idea what makes a brilliant video content agency and they are probably evaluating other tenders for bulk supplies of toilet rolls while you toil away. Tenders are also technically open to anyone, so you’ll find yourself up against far more suppliers than in a normal pitch. The odds are stacked against you from the off.
Many of the marketing and communications departments in the public sector are decidedly second rate. Some aren’t, but the majority are. The most talented marketers aspire to work on the biggest brands. These brands command the biggest budgets and the most acclaim from the public. They are operated by the private sector. So your typical public sector tender is even worse than your typical pitch, and the poor judgement shown is downright dispiriting.
Add to this the fact that many public sector organisations are notorious late-payers and it's no wonder the best agencies and production companies avoid these tenders like the plague. Is this why so much video content in the public sector is so dire? It was selected badly with poor and over-complicated decision making from a list of second-rate suppliers.
So if you’re putting a pitch list together, please don’t expect me to join in. Find the best video agency for the task and use your judgement. I’ll blog another time about how to do this.

< if a video content agency is really good, it won’t have time to offer creative pitches for free. Watch this film by Toronto-based ad agency Zulu Alpha Kilo.(Film by Zulu Alpha Kilo)


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