At the end of 2015, I carved out a few hours to review (then recycle) the stack of magazines that has been sitting on floor of my office for most of the year. It was a mix of ad biz mags, trade pubs for various client industries, automotive “buff books”, and even some journals published by one of Mint’s clients.
An article from Adweek stood out among the many I read. Entitled “Can Agencies Win If They Don’t Play The Spec Pitch Game?”, it featured a few small-to-midsize independent shops that have opted out of speculative pitches.
Spec pitches, long a mainstay of the ad industry, are a way for prospective ad agencies to compete to win the business of a client. The “speculative” part comes in because, very often, the agencies competing in the review are not paid for their time or ideas. The payment is to get the business, and ultimately only one agency gets paid (and sometimes not even then!).
If you’ve never been on the agency end of a pitch, you might not realize the manpower that goes into preparing for one. In addition to having to come up with some flash of strategic insight, you have to come up with strong creative concepts, then create layouts/mock-ups of what the advertising might look like. Often, these renderings are VERY detailed, with a high level of finish. And then there is all the preparation that goes into the presentation to the client. All of this takes dozens, even hundreds, of man-hours. Generally with no compensation or guarantee that your agency will even make the next round of the selection process.
Over my career, I’ve taken part in my share of pitches, big and small. I’ve been part of pitches that won the business, but I’ve also been on the losing team more times than I care to count. Pitches are opportunities for blue-sky thinking and can energize an agency. But they can also drain an agency, pulling people and resources away from serving existing clients. And of course, it’s always deflating to lose.
I think it’s great that some of the agencies mentioned in the article have been able to win clients and grow without having to take part in the circus that is the pitch. Mint’s won assignments without having to pitch against other agencies, too. But I don’t think we’ll ever have a hard and fast “no pitch” rule. Ask me in another 13 years.
ADDENDUM: Zulu Alpha Kilo, one of the agencies mentioned in the Adweek article, recently created a video showing what happens when you ask for spec work from people outside the advertising industry. It’s pretty darn funny. Check it out and let us know what you think.
What do you think of “spec” pitches in the advertising industry? Fair or unfair? A bad business practice or the nature of the beast? Let us know!