The art of the successful pitch
10 Jul 2006
Source: The Guardian
Who can remember the end line for the long running ad campaign for Zanussi? It was, of course, "The appliance of science". It seems to have all but disappeared in recent years, and although none of us are demanding its reinstatement, it is a symptom of how familiar brands can be eroded and slip away very quickly and silently.
Does that matter? I think yes, as brands form part of our value system, and it is mystifying when they are plucked from our consciousness without any explanation. A good barometer for this may not just be the total marketing expenditure and how it is deployed within each medium, but also the number of clients switching from one agency to another.
The lifeblood of what we, the suppliers of these marketing services, do as a matter of survival is to focus regularly upon winning new clients, or to defend existing business against ravenous rivals. It is a fickle sector where success or failure feels like constantly pulling on wet tissue paper, and where certain vital decisions are made subjectively or, on occasion, illogically.
Yet there persists a beguiling process where a mix of insight, chemistry and luck serves to keep us all fixated on this lottery. We genuinely strive to make a difference because we believe that marketing can often make that difference in real life. However this year there seems to be less business up for review in the traditional areas of advertising and media, constricting this vital flow of sustenance to the hungry agency sector. This is worrying, and to me feels like it may be part of a larger shift, like the marketing equivalent of global warming.
The thought is that with less movement comes more stagnation, resulting in a shrinking market for branding services. I bring this up because this very newspaper is in the final stages of selecting a new advertising agency after a long and typically Guardianesque process of intense research. It therefore seemed timely to share some of my thoughts on the subject of pitching in general, before the specific outcome of this decision is finally revealed.
You may recall the Guardian advert from BMP in the 1980s called Points of View, featuring a skinhead apparently mugging a dapper gent, but who, when viewed from another angle, is actually saving him from falling masonry. Even today this is held up as some of the finest work to have been seen in the UK. With such a benchmark the Guardian is an intensely valuable prize for any agency seeking to achieve excellence.
To help me spot any trends in this year of change I consulted Paul Phillips of the AAR (Advertising Agency Reel), a consultancy which acts as an impartial guide for clients looking to find their ideal business partners. He confirmed that the first quarter was "very quiet" for above the line reviews, but "extremely buoyant" for the emerging digital/strategic suppliers. Companies such as i-level (one of the largest digital specialist agencies) have been inundated with opportunities, whilst more traditional companies have been waiting for the phone to ring. When the disappointingly low revenues funnelled into the World Cup and the depressed state of the market in general are also taken into account, then an examination of the broader picture seems urgently needed.
The trend is clear. Clients are seeking to spend their funds on a more measurable return for their investments, and less upon longer term hope/faith branding campaigns. Like Zanussi, which sacrificed its marketing budget to prop up its distribution via a donation to the retailers' own activity, more familiar brands may become worn away through neglect or under-investment in branding. No longer was much of the "appliance of science" being applied there then. And that is no isolated incident some ten years later either.
So when the Guardian selects its advertising agency, it may be interesting to readers to note whether you can detect any shift in emphasis in its messages. Will you witness a branding resurgence through a 2006 equivalent of Points of View rallying the core values of this strong brand, or relentlessly tactical work aimed at boosting short-term sales; work which solely talks about that day's issue or some smaller improvement to the print package?
You are best qualified to be the informed observers (no pun intended) of the effects of this imminent pitching contest, and to judge whether it bucks the emerging trend or forms part of a much more widespread fragmented evolution.
Wedding gifts that are herd not seen
The reinvention of Oxfam is happening apace. No longer is its ad campaign part of the growing band of tug-at-the-heartstrings commercials, nor its retail outlets a dowdy chain of down-at-heel high street stores recycling unwanted clothing and bric-a-brac.
Welcome to Oxfam Unwrapped. The charity has come up with a clever way of tapping into a modern cultural reality. Did you know that 41% of all weddings are re-marriages for one or both partners? This figure has doubled since the 1970s. These days 90% of second unions occur after an extended period of cohabiting.
Many people have every toaster, fondue set or china tea service that they could possibly wish for. So what does a guest buy the happy couple that has everything? Some friends placed their wedding list with Oxfam Unwrapped rather than with John Lewis, and it made for some fascinating reading.
For around £100 I could buy a donkey, sponsor a teacher and provide a goat in Africa. Two goats in Mauritania cost a bargain £48. You can build a toilet in Congo for just £30. A class of children can be taught for a month in Kenya for the miserly sum of £63.
This is a brilliant way for Oxfam to regenerate funds to plug into an emerging cultural trend for unneeded gifts and wider social consciousness. There can only be winners and it is an example of an insight that we can all feel good about.
· Jonathan Durden is president of PHD Group