Guess which reality shows are more like advertising than The Pitch?

16 Sep

AMC advertising reality show The PitchThe Pitch, AMCs new advertising reality show, pits two agencies against each other to win a new piece of business.

Reality? I don’t think so.

Real new business pitches usually offer remarkably poorer odds. Here are some recent personal examples:

  • I was told by one business inviting my participation, that 17 others would also be submitting proposals.
  • In another, my company learned – after the fact – that we had been competing against 24 other agencies.

That’s reality folks.

Ad agencies everywhere are hungry for business, and Request for Proposals (the formal process) now find interest from agencies of all sizes. Technology has removed geographic proximity as a requirement, meaning coast-to-coast – and even international – participation is becoming more common. So the numbers keep creeping up.

A full, formal process doesn’t happen in a week like it does on this show. From the initial Expression of Interest, to the Q & A’s, to the heavily compliant RFP document – sometimes with requirement for creative and strategic ideas – to the short-listed agencies doing in-person presentations, getting to the final three can take months and is more like Survivor than The Pitch.

Doug getting voted off survivor

But this is where the client can step in and manage the process.

RFPs are open to whoever wants to participate. But perhaps businesses should implement a cap on the number of entries they receive. Or report back to every agency on the number of Expressions of Interest they have received, so each agency can better assess the odds going in.

I always ask, but not every company will tell.

No business – not a single business on earth – requires 18, let alone 25, participants to vie for their contracts. That just shows the failing of the RFP process in respect to the agencies.

25-to-1 odds? That’s not The Pitch. That’s The Bachelor. And we all know how those relationships turn out.

The Bachelor Jake and all the women

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8 Responses to “Guess which reality shows are more like advertising than The Pitch?”

  1. JP Holecka (@jaypiddy) September 16, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Think that’s bad? The design firm Ignition pitched over 200 poster ideas to land the gig for the Dark Shadows movie. Thats just from one of the agencies competing for the business. Maybe they should have done that with the directors for the film instead. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/ignition-print_n_1508238.html

    • Doug Brown September 16, 2012 at 10:00 am #

      Yeah, too bad the movie was such a misplaced stinker. But seriously JP, that kind of overkill raises the bar in depressing ways. We’re all for impressing our potential clients with our ideas, our energy and our willingness to work hard. But how do you compete with Ignition? Do 250 posters?

      Thanks for the comment and the link. Seems like the strategy is working for them…

  2. fnotph September 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    I am just going to give my two-cents about The Pitch itself. I recently found out they are running a second season. How? I am not quite sure. First of all, they show two agencies who just fling out ideas without any regard to strategy or market research. In the first episode, not one agency goes to try the Subway Breakfast. Then, they announce the agency who wins without any mention of why. And they don’t even bother to follow up to show if the campaign was effective or show any metrics of success. Most reality TV shows who have contestants battle to win money or fame have a panel of expert judges and industry leaders – Top Chef, American Idol, Project Runway. It would have been nice to see this on The pitch instead of just showing clients and who they ultimately choose. Reality TV shows are hardly rooted in reality, but The Pitch definitely could have done a better job. I stopped watching after two episodes.

    • Doug Brown September 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      Hm. I stopped watching after the same episode Stefanie, for many of the reasons you mentioned, none more so than the lack of post-decision results to let us know if the chosen agency was actually able to move the client’s needle. Can you imagine Intervention without the “3 months later” segment? It would be totally unsatisfying.

      In advertising, success is the only measuring stick! Great comment.

  3. Murray Kirk September 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    Sounds like an un-realistic reality show. I know only marginally more than zero about the advertising business however I do know that the winner of a business proposal involving 200 submissions is no kind of winner that I would want to be. First of all, the client is loser… full stop. Secondly, winning generally assumes at least some kind of financial success … winning a contract that 199 of your peers lost tells a frightening story about margins … margins in cash, margins in human capacity and margins in dedication to purpose. Finally, Im of the opinion that the top 10% of the 199 losers are breathing a sigh of relief that they dodged that bullet knowing that their capacity to excel on behalf of their client is directly proportional to that clients capacity to understand that very dynamic … which is of course the very essence of how and why they are in the top 10% and why the client is a loser.

    Just sayin 🙂

    • Doug Brown September 16, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Over-delivery is a natural consequence of the pressures of these processes Murray. The bar gets higher all the time.

      On the plus side, there are still great clients out there who invite agencies they know and respect, and nurture the relationship and the expertise that comes with them. Victory through an RFP is no guarantee of a happy marriage…you still hardly know each other. Advertising remains a relationship business!

  4. Lynne DeCew September 17, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Spot on as usual, Doug. After four years on the agency new business beat, I know just how absurd the whole RFP process has become.

    One recent example: Our company was invited to participate in a lengthy “pre-qualification” process for a branding/awareness campaign on behalf of a BC regional development association. Preparing the response to the RFP involved many, many hours of our time, but hey – the client had specifically invited us, so the odds seemed reasonable.

    After a lot of work and several weeks of waiting, we were notified that we had qualified for the next stage. It would begin with a conference call briefing – after which we’d be asked to develop detailed strategic recommendations (and let’s face it, that means spec creative). Based on that, the client would then select a short list of agencies for further consideration. So… many more hours of work, but hey – there can’t be many agencies that made it this far, so the odds aren’t bad, right?

    In fact, there were no less than 21 agencies on that conference call, including some of Vancouver’s biggest players, several Ontario agencies, a couple of US niche firms that specialized in precisely this type of assignment, and a handful of mini-shops from BC’s interior. All for a one-off project with a budget of less than $40K.

    On this occasion at least, we decided to cut our losses and withdrew from the process, but I hate to think how many hours we wasted on similarly futile exercises. Strategic thinking, creative expertise and its time are the only products an agency has to sell. No wonder our industry is struggling when we’re all so willing to give it away.

    • Doug Brown September 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      I just hate to hear stories like this Lynne. Anyone working in advertising has as a similar horror story to tell. I’d advocate that agencies pull together to create guidelines for the RFP process, but all it takes is one rogue agency that’s willing to submit 200 pieces of work and the whole damn thing comes undone.

      We’ve been giving away our golden eggs for years in the hopes of landing the big account and making our money from media commissions. But they’re gone now too. Ideas, as you say, is what we now sell, and what we’ve always been best at. If we value them so little as to give them away, how can we expect clients to be willing to pay?

      Harder still for small to medium agencies, who simply can’t throw a dozen people at the pitch, while it’s business as usual elsewhere in the company. These things can really overwhelm you, as I’m sure you’ve experienced many times. Nice if you win one, but the odds are making it harder all the time.

      Thanks for sharing that.

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