J. Walter Thompson Germany’s COO Bernd Adams ponders the issue of pitch consultants and deciding on the correct agency partner
Recently, there’s been a discussion going on among pitch consultants in Germany about the benefits of the classic pitch, workshops and performance and chemistry meetings, when deciding on the right agency partner. Bernd Adams, COO of J. Walter Thompson Germany, takes on the agency’s perspective. His conclusion? So long as the selection criteria of pitch consultants remains non-transparent and the distribution of roles between client and agency out-dated, the format of the selection process remains secondary.
Two main stances exist when it comes to the classic pitch. Those in favour highlight its efficiency and transparency, while its critics point to crude briefings, artificial lab conditions, idea theft and a blatantly uneven relationship between effort and reward.
The challenge lies in describing the heartbeat of the organisation
Pitch consultants have come up with a few alternatives to the classic pitch, including workshops as well as performance and chemistry meetings. For example, there is this two-step workshop approach. The first phase consists of a “Philosophy Workshop” in which pitch consultants and clients get together to discuss various aspects of the project. There has been great demand for this in the past, especially because clients often find it difficult to accurately convey the heartbeat and vision of their organisation or to define the creative and strategic goals of a campaign.
In the second phase, the pitch consultants bring together agencies and clients. This is also usually when performance and chemistry meetings take off – to me it is not all that different from a regular workshop. Key criterion for an invitation to a workshop/meeting: the “mindsets” of client and agency have to harmonise.
Can pitch consultants really judge the workings of an agency?
For me, one question immediately comes to mind: how do pitch consultants know the mentality and detailed work methods of an agency? Despite the large network of pitch consultants, certain judgements will nonetheless be based on hearsay rather than on profound analysis. In my opinion, this would be insufficient as the sole basis for a professional screening and selection process. This again is a strong argument for workshops or chemistry meetings, as the setting allows all participants to get a sense of one another.
As realistic as possible – even if it includes some risks
These workshops, however, are only expedient when cooperation between clients and agencies is simulated as realistically as possible. If the simulations are too staged, then their informative value only differs minimally from that of the traditional pitch.
These workshops then, at best, capture a snapshot that does not allow for conclusions on other important aspects of the cooperation: the sometimes fragmented processes of creative brainstorming, the interactions within the agency, the interaction with the client, as well as the ability to reasonably combine the interests of the client with the capabilities of the agency.
I personally find it useful to contrast the traditional pitch with newer versions of the selection process, such as workshops or chemistry meetings. Of course, this also comes with certain risks: in such settings, we often present ourselves as confident, spirited and overall well-rounded and interesting individuals. In trying to find the best idea, things can get lively every once in a while. A recent client evidently found this to be slightly disturbing and inharmonious, choosing to go with a different agency, even though they were convinced by our creative approach and expertise. In the end, the client wanted to buy our idea, however, we politely declined this offer.
A testament for real teamwork
To ensure that these newer formats develop into a convincing solution in the long-term, there has to be an increased awareness of the distribution of roles between client and agency, something that is currently lacking. Based on my experience, campaigns are most successful when clients and agencies see themselves as one team and act accordingly. Pitch consultants have considerable influence to ensure that the line between agency on the one hand, and client on the other, is not excessively emphasised. If this is achieved, then the specific format for the agency selection process starts to take a backseat.
Bernd Adams is COO at J. Walter Thompson Germany