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The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be
Advertising Agency
London, UK
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INFLUENCER: In the wake of the pandemic, Mr. President's Jon Gledstone believes we need to start living for the now

Day who-the-hell-knows of the new reality and we’re no closer to knowing when we’ll be back in the office, how to avoid speaking on mute during video calls and what the heck adland will look like post-Covid-19.

Now I consider myself an optimist, and I really hope that the future is still as bright as that first ad I made all those years ago promised. But since this coronavirus has reared its ugly spiky head, I now feel far less willing to bank on it. 

Because for too long, I feel that us agencies have had to put too much of our stock in the promise of the future and as a consequence, the value of our now has been massively undermined.  

Something has got to change, so let’s start with unpaid pitches.

The whole premise has always been mad, but even though the creative in me finds them exciting - the business partner side of me that sits in the boardroom every month looking at spreadsheets and revenue forecasts can’t help but think that giving away everything for free ‘now’ in the hope that we will get rewarded for it ‘in the future’ is now madder than ever.

Because pitches were always a punt. But now -  with the future more uncertain than it has ever been, they are a complete gamble. 

And despite us being in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we are still expected to put an expensive stake in a game that, even if you win, you’re not guaranteed a prize - or at least the prize you thought you were getting. Because here’s the thing, the marketing budget we are all fighting over is the very first thing to be cut when the world gets crazy.  And from where I’m standing it’s only getting crazier. 

We have a game-changer in coronavirus, so let’s change the game. 

Let’s - now you might want to take a seat here - put a price on our work, regardless of whether it’s speculative or not. This doesn’t make us mercenaries. We can be both brilliantly creative and financially savvy.

In fact, the more assured we are in our finances, the braver we can afford to be with our ideas.

Because this isn’t just about our craft being properly valued. This is about changing things for the better for both agency and client alike. Because I truly believe the overall quality of pitch work would improve significantly if there was a fee attached to producing it.

Not out of principle, or because it enables us to better resource our team, but because It changes the dynamic. Being commissioned to showcase your work is very different from being asked to audition it. 

And when you’ve already been commissioned to respond to a brief, your business suddenly becomes less reliant on that response being ‘bought’.

You suddenly have more freedom to present the great work you believe the client actually needs, rather than pitch the work you think the client might actually buy. 

Now I know all good agencies will say they do this already - we certainly always try to here at Mr.P - but as the future becomes more and more uncertain for us all, I think it’s going to prove harder and harder to stick to those ideals.

So not only would the work be better with a fee, but I think the client-agency relationship could be strengthened by it too. A fee would ensure the client is finding the right agency partner and not just one that can afford to play the game.

As Lizzy Pollott, global VP of brand at Acast recently wrote on LinkedIn: “I value chemistry so much more than ‘spend weeks working on a presentation for us….’”. 

This is music to my ears. And if all clients were asked to pay for the time of the agencies that progressed through the chemistry sessions, maybe they’d have to put more focus on that chemistry. Maybe they would only choose two of us to pitch and pay both equally. 

Some clients have been known to do this already, Coke and P&G to name but two. And whilst the fee may not always cover the entire cost of the work we put in - I massively respect those clients who acknowledge the dent with their own wallets. 

But for this paid-pitch thing to become a thing, it’s going to take more than just a few plucky agency souls occasionally going out on a limb and coyly mumbling the word 'fee?' as the client tucks into the posh biscuits. It’s going to take all of us to stand firm and be brave no matter how shiny that potential new brand is. 

Coronavirus has forced us all to change the way we live our lives, and it also presents us with a unique opportunity to change how we run our businesses.

The future ain’t what it used to be. So I believe we need to start living for the now - and if we all, clients and agencies alike, really want the work and the relationship to be as brilliant and as effective as it can be, I think we should start billing for it too.

Jon Gledstone is ECD and partner at Mr. President