Last week the International Advertising Association Middle East and North Africa chapter launched a guide book in the attempt to improve the pitching process in the region (IAA Pitching Guidelines).
Having worked with many of the region’s advertising agencies myself on integrated pitches, I fully appreciate the amount of time that goes into these presentations and the number of people involved in the process. At one agency it was common for 20 or more executives to be called into a committee to review the work of the creative team and to form a defacto focus group.
The work presented in these meetings went through the same thorough quality checking that it would go through in the actual pitch, requiring multiple proof-reading and approval processes.
And this was done for every pitch, because it was not possible to distinguish between a ‘major’ client and a ‘time-waster’ because most companies were related to several others due to their management, sponsor or because they are quasi-government entities.
The pain of pitching is very severe, almost as much as the pain of losing an existing client.
This process book is therefore very helpful and includes some very useful insights which all corporates should consider when running a pitch for any communications discipline.
In terms of ‘ethics’ the following four principles are recommended by the IAA:
It is essential to the success of both the marketing strategies as well as the long-term relationship that the client shares all relevant marketing data and research with the agency. This is underpinned by the non-disclosure document signed in advance of the pitch.
The agency team should have access to the client staff with whom they would be working if and when appointed. During the pitch process, meetings between client and agency personnel should be managed by the steering committee, and they should ensure appropriate interaction.
Intellectual property and copyright
Intellectual property (IP) although intangible, is one of the most valuable assets of any organisation. Within the marketing communications arena, IP is the creative difference that provides marketing solutions, motivates buyers, inspires business transformation and leads to brand and product growth. The copyright of ideas generated under the terms of an agency pitch remains the property of the agency conceiving and producing the work.
Should a concept produced by an agency that is not selected during the pitch process be of interest to the client, the client needs to negotiate the purchase rights of this idea before using it.
During negotiations on the content of NDAs or contracts, clients should respect the right of agencies to protect their IP, and agencies need to maintain a standard legal terminology covering the release and transfer of IP within an established fee structure. It is not ethical, despite what a signed NDA may say, for clients to take and use ideas presented during a pitch process or to take ownership of any ideas without compensating
Experience demonstrates that it is constructive and in the client’s best interest to recognise agencies for the expertise they bring and to be treated as equals. The growing trend of treating an agency as a supplier should be avoided throughout the pitch process as well as thereafter. A pitch should start with a real sense of mutual respect and understanding, which should be developed further as the process unfolds.
Respect can only be generated by open and transparent dealings because anything less will invariably be obvious or become known, adversely affecting trust within the relationship. Be honest about what is really going on with the incumbent agency. Be truthful about the scope of work and open regarding the budget. If you really do not know, say so.When starting the pitch process, be entirely clear about the marking system – what will gain added marks and for what they will be deducted.
Contracts and agreements should, as far as possible, protect the interests of both organisations in the relationship. Once the decision on the preferred agency is made, it is not unusual for many months to be spent on contract negotiations, as each side of the relationship tries to outmaneuver the other.
Contracts should be documents that provide an outline of the working practices and should not be unduly biased in favour of one side of the partnership or the other. Approaching contract discussions with a positive expectation and openness to compromise in the resulting negotiations will set the foundations for a long-term and mutually satisfying relationship.
As I have written before, Codes of Conduct and Ethics are extremely difficult to enforce and implement. If they do not work across the sector universally, and if there are no penalties then, sadly this code is really not going to achieve the IAA’s noble ambitions.
The ‘ethical’ principles of Transparency, Mutuality and Respect would be great in an ideal world. But they have little ground in reality.
Confidentiality has to be maintained to protect the corporate’s business. From the client’s point of view, they don’t want to share their business problems with a company which is only bound under a non-enforceable NDA. Who knows where this information will be shared and for what ends.
Mutuality isn’t truly an ethical issue – it’s one of negotiation strength and skill. Both parties have a role to play in this and both can exert pressures on the other side.
Respect has to be earned. It cannot be assumed from the beginning. Good work consistently delivered results in respect being established. For respect to be offered across the board, the communications sector as a whole needs to raise the bar.
Finally, for intellectual property, this is a potentially simple item to enforce. Authors and song writers have been doing it for years now.
What creative agencies need to do is to send themselves a sealed package with a copy of the campaign (preferably with a copy in Arabic to aid any possible court process) and keep on file. If it transpires that a client does steal their campaign, then they have hard evidence with which to embarrass the transgressor.
Perhaps the advertising, PR and other associations should come together and create a name-shame list of individuals who have conducted themselves incorrectly and warn their members against these people. It will not work to blacklist companies – it will be ignored. But to red flag individuals will help drive them from the industry or to put them under pressure to perform correctly and will likely encourage investigation from the corporates themselves.