As president of the Art Directors Club of Europe (ADCE) and chair at hasan & partners, I am and always will be obsessed with creativity in all its forms.
And creativity comes at a cost. Somebody has to pay for it. Would someone mind telling procurement teams that?
This year I have been astonished at the sheer number of legacy relationships going up for (procurement-led) pitches, Audi and BBH being one of the most shocking – surely one of the most effective and awarded brand / agency relationships of all time.
Elaborate pitches seem to be becoming the standard of the industry. Not only that, a pitch with more than five agencies competing is quite normal. And not only THAT, a pitch that costs the agency in excess of $100k in resource and / or cost, pretty normal too.
This should not be normal.
For a simple reason. Pitches do not simulate the client-agency relationship. No client can test chemistry simultaneously with five or more agencies and quite often with their professional pitch teams. Not the team that’s going to eventually work on the brand.
The best client I ever had was the global marketing director for IKEA. I live in Finland and I get this call from a guy I don’t know. He introduces himself and tells me that IKEA will be opening its first store in Finland in a year and a half.
“You’ve been recommended to me,” he says. We chat. And I answer some questions he has on the local market.
This ‘chat’ happened a several times over the next year. We hardly ever spoke about advertising, he just wanted to get a feel of me and my thinking – our chemistry.
He eventually comes over and we meet. And he hires us on the spot on the caveat that he has chemistry with the team, too. The following six months he dedicates his time to our team at all levels – taking them around testing laboratories, stores, recycling initiatives, the works - explaining how IKEA’s business functions.
When it came time to plan the launch, he asked us this: “I’ve told you everything there is to know about our business. You know the Finnish audience and communications far better than we do. How do we tell our business story to the Finnish people?”
And because of the time he’d put in with the team… they knew exactly how to do that.
The loyalty he built with us in that few months, and with me in that one and a half years was invaluable. The work we did for them won all the awards and in a few years, we were their agency of record in eight European countries, as well as the global home shopping business.
At some point, of course, he retired, and at some point, of course, we lost the account. But it was beautiful while it lasted because there was trust and he understood our value as a partner. We worked together to find solutions.
But times have changed.
Today, the pitch is the new standard.
And the sheer amount of work going up for pitch at the moment speaks of a wider issue. Pitches, and the following procurement process, are things that eat up profit margin. They degenerate agencies to a level where they are no longer raising and saving the brand – just assisting. The trust and cooperation have been replaced by doubts and obedience.
If you win you celebrate for one night, and realise you just used $100k worth of resources that you're not going to get back. According to stats, that relationship is going to last three years. You celebrate knowing it won’t generate profit, especially not after procurement has stepped in.
To me, it’s total insanity. It is insanity to expect the best people giving it their best effort and achieving the best results if you pay them the cheapest possible price.
Building a brand is a long-term job. To constantly switch direction and partner, is not productive for agencies and it's not productive for brands.
I have loved seeing Wieden+Kennedy’s ’Dream Crazy’ work for Nike featuring Colin Kaepernick take home Grands Prix in Outdoor and in the new Sport Lions category at Cannes Lions this year.
Not just because the work is brilliant – and it is – but because it irrevocably demonstrates the power of the relationship between client and agency. The power of sticking to the brand essence, of relationships built on mutual trust, of creating a brand story that is rooted and fundamental to the core and success of the business.
There is a brilliant quote from Seth Godin who said that if Nike launched a hotel, you’d have a pretty clear idea of what that hotel would look like. But if Hyatt created a sneaker, if could look like ANYTHING. Because Nike owns a brand, and Hyatt owns real estate.
That’s what long-term relationships and brand building create. And what annual pitches and procurement-led reviews eat away before the relationship has even started.