Are New Biz Account Reviews Spooky?
Let’s see what really smart marketers have to say.
Justin Bajan | October 30, 2020
Look, the pandemic and 2020 in general has ruined a lot of things. And one of the biggest things this tag team of trash ruined was Spooky SZN, aka Spooky Season. If you google that phrase or hashtag, you’ll see lots of posts about it from years past, but this year? Not so much.
It’s a damn shame. But along with getting used to 97 Zoom calls a day, it’s just something we’ll have to get used to I guess.
Ok, back to the premise at hand.
The best, right? As Q3 crumbles roars into Q4, ad agencies be pitching. And this year is no different. Fire up your Business Insider subscription and you’ll see some really big ones are going on right now. You’ll also see fresh content from Ad Age about how agencies are handling these pitches/RFPs (don’t be surprised to see the word “pivot” in there a few times.)
Pitches have been around since the beginning of time probably, but the way they’re done now—with search consultants at the helm—goes back to the 80s, right as the golden age of advertising was waning. This was also when the holding companies gained more steam (re: bought more agencies), the media commission model started to transition to a fee-based one and you know, Don Draper had traded in his suits for Hawaiian shirts and short shorts (meta-fictionally speaking). By my count there’s 34 super big and fancy search consultants in the game right now and they help conduct lots of pitches every year. Good for them. However if you chatted Zoomed with a bleary-eyed junior creative or account coordinator, they might disagree.
But, instead of getting a bunch of salty agency folk to pile on the pitching process, we thought we’d talk to people on the other side of the Zoom call, the clients. How do they feel about search-consultant-led, RFP-based pitches, huh?
It’s a mixed bag (trying not to make a lame Halloween candy bag joke here). On the pro-pitch side, some believe they are “helpful. Pitches challenge assumptions and expand thinking,” Drayton Martin, VP of Brand Stewardship at Dunkin’ Brands. Brooke Trusty, Brand Manager, at Valvoline agrees, “It totally depends on the need case (AOR vs special assignment), but when all parties are clear on the requirements and needs, magic can happen in those weeks.”
Magic is kinda spooky isn’t it?
Jack Oh, Chief Marketing Officer at Tender Greens kinda agrees, (this is just one of his awesome quotes that I could bless your timeline with). “The pitch process needs to change. Agencies need leadership that can meaningfully ‘interview the interviewer.’ Brands need strong marketing leadership, clarity of role and organizational commitment/buy-in to the roadmap. Without both, there is likely a lack of clear pitch process, limitation of channel and disconnected organization definition of success. All with a very short window for any partner to succeed.”
That notion of “interviewing the interviewer,” was also brought up by Drayton Martin, “My opinion is that the agencies need real access to the decisionmaker during the process to understand the views and aspirations. The secretive pitch process is not beneficial to anyone.” Overall there seems to be a disconnect between the “magic” that goes on and who’s really making decisions on the brand side and creating the work on the agency side. Chris Connelly, formerly VP of brand and product strategy at Benjamin Moore and now VP of Marketing and Brand Strategy at Mercy College, told me: the… frustration is when you come in with a given pitch, we inevitably tell you it’s too expensive, and then to account for trying to meet the price, you switch out team members to the more junior/lower cost people on your team, essentially eliminating the value of the discussion had in the pitch.” I’m not gonna say engaging in a game of staffing plan musical chairs is spooky, but sounds a little questionable to me…
SO WHERE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GO? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?
On the one hand, some brands find traditional pitches to be the best way for agencies to “reveal their critical and creative thinking to solve real-world problems businesses are facing,” says Brooke Trusty. On the other side you have folks like Kelly Murnaghan, SVP Global Marketing at Burton Snowboards, who say “pitches occasionally work when investing in specific tools and technology, but not so really for larger AOR engagements, which is where enduring relationships play much more of a role.”
We’ve certainly followed Kelly’s logic at Familiar Creatures, where 90ish% percent of our clients come from relationships. It’s also how we’ve retained our clients, by focusing on the relationship. When you see how the average tenure of a CMO has dropped to 41.1 months, and the 15% increase in 2020 senior marketing job changes, you kinda want to create work and invest in relationships that last, rather than feed into the churn.
Sure, we’ve done our fair share of RFPs and been invited to a few pitches in our 2.5 years of existence, but we’ve found the agencies that typically win these already have an established relationship with the players on the client side, or at best significantly lower their fee in a race to the bottom. And all of that sounds a little too spooky to us.