Jul 2013

Recently Richard Bleasdale, Managing Partner of The Observatory Asia Pacific had dished out some words of wisdom to Singapore agencies urging them to be selective at their pitches given the amount of resources that get burnt in the process. This once again reignited the debate about how should agencies evaluate which clients to pitch for, how much time, money and creative resources should they invest on pitches? Should they give out kickass campaign ideas for free to entice the clients or should they hold back? Richard mentions that on average an agency spends about 2000 man hours of effort on a pitch and incurs hard costs worth S$10,000. Now imagine one of those large client pitches with 10 agencies fighting hard to woo and win over the client. Eventually 18,000 man hours of the industry and investments worth S$90,000 will be wiped off and 9 beautiful pitch decks will get buried in some corner of a Dropbox shared folder. This can’t be too productive or sustainable for the industry at large.

As a young, hungry, growing digital consulting firm, I must admit that on many an occasion we have pitched aggressively, gone out of our way to please clients with ideas and have thrown in value-added services to win them over. We have won some but have had our fair share of failures and rejections as well. When we lose a pitch we feel lousy, dejected and angry. But our survival instincts has taught us to reflect, introspect and the next day we come back re-energized and are ready to take on the world once again! In this process, one thing has always been amiss and has bothered me to no end. Whilst clients engage agencies with a lot of zest and enthusiasm during the pitch briefing phase, most of them never bother to acknowledge & inform you when you have lost the pitch, let alone drop you a thank you note for the effort or provide any constructive feedback. As established earlier, the multi-agency pitch process model already drains the industry of expensive resources but such transactional, need-based relationships can potentially further severe relationships and diminish goodwill. And this again can’t be too healthy for the industry at large.

I agree that the over-supply of competitive, aggressive agencies in the market is one of the key drivers for such a phenomenon and that at the of the day only one agency will win an account. But it wouldn’t hurt the client too much to go the extra mile to host a post pitch review session to address & acknowledge all participants and brief them on the pitch process, who won the account, what were some of the merits of that submission, what were some of the other good ideas that came up during the process and suggestions for future improvement. This collaborative approach would definitely take some effort & resources from the client’s end but will definitely create a healthy rapport between them and the agencies and can only help their brand and the industry at large in the long run. If the agencies are chipping in with 2000 man hours and S$10,000 worth of effort per pitch on average, this is the least the client side can do to ensure a healthy, respectful balance of power between the two sides.

Now, I have been hoping that someday some client will take the leap forward and set things right. And to my pleasant surprise, things are changing – well at least we have had our first such experience with a client. Recently, we pitched hard for a very interesting digital project and were fortunate to be short listed. I must admit that this client was very approachable, supportive and engaging during the pre-submission phase. We thought we put on a good show during our final presentation and the comments and body language of the client seemed to suggest the same. But alas, one fine morning while I was in the MRT, the email notification popup on my iPhone carried the bad news that we had not made it. Quite a dejecting start to the day but as I read further, I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst the client rightfully had not sugar-coated the bad news, but he was very respectful and candid in his response. The best part was that he offered to take us out for what he referred to as a “consolation beer session” this week to share his candid feedback on what we did well and what we could have done better. We did meet this week and I can assure you that I have never felt better after losing a deal:)

The client took the pain of sharing detailed feedback on our submission, both at an absolute and relative scale. He dissected our approach and gave us suggestions on what we could have done better (thats a blog post for another day!). His mere effort to invite us for this session had won him our respect but what made us respect him all the more is the fact that neither did he reveal any confidential information about the other agencies nor did he make any negative remarks. He had a balanced approach and a positive outlook. Since he liked our approach and ideas, he suggested that he would like to carry on the dialogue to talk about a couple of other digital projects that are in the offing. The beer had already helped to cool us down but this one hour session had healed our wounds. We were richer in experience and there were no bitter feelings and we are ready to move on.

We may or may not even get the next project with them but given their positive, constructive and respectful approach, we will definitely be willing to once again put in our 2l000 hours and S$10,000 for them. While I will re-enforce Richard’s message to the agencies about pitching cautiously, I would also urge all clients in Singapore to take this extra step to bridge the gap and build harmonious, respectful relationships with their agency partners. This is the least that we can do to ensure that our local creative & advertising agency has a healthy, productive & sustainable future.

If we don’t deserve your project, just spend an hour with us and buy us a “Consolation Beer” – not to sympathise with us but to help us learn, improve and get better.

Prantik Mazumdar

Prantik is a Managing Partner at Happy Marketer, who leads the firm’s Social, Mobile & Display Advertising practice. He sits on the Global Digital Board of Time International, a leading luxury chain in Asia.