Archive for November, 2009

In the name of “doing the right thing” many clients run their pitch processes on a “level playing field” basis.

It is good that they care about doing right by the pitching agencies – many don’t – but that care is misdirected.

A level playing field approach means that all pitching agencies get to see the questions asked by their competitors, along with the answers to those questions. The thinking behind this is that the pitching agencies are all given the best possible chance of having the right information to allow them to produce relevant responses to the brief.

In my experience, however, the approach actually has the opposite effect.

The client wants relevant responses to the brief.

Whereas the agencies want to win the pitch.

In my view not many clients fully appreciate the implications of this important difference in objectives between them and the pitching agencies.

A clever client will run a pitch process in such a way as to make sure that an agency’s objective of winning is as closely linked to presenting the most relevant response to the brief as possible.

A level playing field doesn’t do this.

The competitive instincts of the agencies mean that no-one will openly ask a question that might give a clue as to their strategic thinking.

Which means that questions that might lead to more relevant responses to the brief go unasked.

And unanswered.

How an agency interrogates a brief gives important clues as to how they think. It also gives important clues as to whether they are thinking harder or better than their competitors.

Most pitches are about buying an agency partner as well as, or rather than, buying an answer to a specific brief.

If you want to see the whites of an agency’s eyes in terms of how they approach a brief under pitch conditions, don’t operate a level playing field.

Operate an Equal Opportunities policy.

Give all the competing agencies an equal opportunity to meet you, to ask questions of you, to make suggestions for how they’d like to manage the process, to share interim thinking and ideas with you.

But don’t share that approach with the other agencies.

An Equal Opportunities approach will give you a much better idea of the right agency for your organisation than a Level Playing Field.

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Professional golfers are more likely to hit a hole-in-one than mere mortals.

But it’s still a relatively rare occurrence.

Because there are so many things that can prevent a hole-in-one from happening.

It requires skill and luck.

In fact a hole-in-one is a minor golfing miracle.

Great creative work that sees the light of day is a minor miracle too.

There are so many things that can prevent it from happening.

It requires skill and luck.

The brief needs to represent a shared strategic vision between client and agency.

The brief has to be a liberating springboard for creativity.

And be accompanied by an inspirational briefing.

It has to go to the right creative team.

Who have to believe in the strategy.

Who have to believe that it represents an opportunity to do great work.

Who have to believe that the client will buy said great work.

Who have to have adequate time to develop said great work.

Who have to present their ideas to a creative director who shares the same vision for what constitutes great work off that brief.

If it is truly great, for which read truly original and ground-breaking as well as relevant, it may need to survive the natural conservatism of certain agency team members.

It needs to answer the declared objectives on the brief.

But it also needs to answer the undeclared objectives and considerations in the heads of various client stakeholders.

It needs to be well presented (but ideally not ‘sold’).

It needs to survive, unscathed and uncompromised, the push-backs and builds of client team members with varying levels of editorial ability.

It needs to survive research methods that can be actively hostile to original ideas.

It has to survive researchers who, in my experience (with a few notable exceptions), are naturally disinclined to go out on a limb in support of the kind of work that, by it’s nature, is likely to polarise the average focus group.

It needs to be enhanced not diminished by its eventual execution.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

But it hopefully makes its point.

These are the reasons that my first reaction to work like the new Dixon’s campaign is to give it the benefit of the doubt.

There were probably several points at which it nearly didn’t make it.

It’s a survivor.

And the point of all this?

Every brief is an opportunity to do great work.

Given the odds against it, you drastically reduce your changes of being associated with great ideas if you don’t bring this attitude to work with you every day.

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