Like most everything else, the pitch landscape has been radically altered due to the events of 2020 and the world we now live in. We spoke with David Strome, Client Development Director, US at MediaSense for his thoughts on navigating both the now and the road ahead.
Q: What is the pitching landscape currently like in the US?
Pitch activity has understandably slowed due to the global pandemic and aside from those who forged ahead with media reviews, the volume of business in play during the first half of 2020 is about half of what it was the prior year. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. It allowed brands and agencies to reassess and prepare for a new way of working which they have embraced and adapted to quickly. With the benefit of having run a number of pitches through this period, we’ve been especially impressed by how clients and agencies have embraced the change and developed stronger partnerships in spite of the more remote circumstances. The industry has learned a lot in a very short amount of time which will have a lasting effect on the media agency review landscape for years to come.
Q: How has Covid-19 affected the pitching process?
Any preconceived notions or ‘formulas’ for how a pitch should be run needs to be adapted for the new world we live in. While some of the principles and steps in the process remain, flexibility, agility and internal alignment have become more important than ever.
Overall, as we’ve discovered this year, there are genuinely positive changes to the pitching process. Generating chemistry and teamwork is absolutely possible in a virtual environment and can even bring a new kind of camaraderie and humility to the process. The ‘theatre’ of the in-person pitch has been replaced with a more human and empathic element which makes the process a lot more tangible and impactful. And naturally, through exceptional circumstances, the process has become more efficient and respectful of agency resources. Unnecessary steps will be eliminated, tasks will be kept tighter, and meetings shorter, with fewer participants.
Q: Why are brands moving media agencies?
The current situation has definitely forced brands to reassess their agency models. Some have taken the difficult decision to go to pitch through this crisis while many others have used the time to rethink their future operating model – both internally and externally. Brands have made changes, so they are better prepared for a future ecosystem which necessitates much greater agility, control and self-sufficiency.
Q: What are brands looking for from a media agency?
We’ve seen an evolution in what clients are expecting from their agency partners in a post-Covid world. New operating models have emerged, affording brands with greater access to global talent and resources across agency networks. The new ease in connectivity and best practice sharing across geographies also means that things happen more quickly and efficiently. You don’t need to wait for someone to fly in from London or have a meeting with 20 people in a conference room anymore. We’ve also seen a shift in how marketers are prioritizing their agency’s KPIs and how they structure remuneration based on performance and outcomes. There has also been a lot of talks lately about pitches driven by cost-cutting and extended payment terms. But in business, whether in partnerships or competition, most parties have lines they know they cannot and will not cross. There are no ‘sides’ when you communicate openly, know your boundaries, and play fair. These are the principles in which competition, fruitful negotiations, and healthy partnerships are built.
Q: How will the pitching landscape change in the future?
With delayed or paused pitches being green-lit, we’ll likely see a lot more action in 2021. And if there is in fact another ‘MediaPalooza’ on the horizon, it’s likely to be quite different from what we’ve seen in the past. Transparency and cost efficiency will remain important factors, but they are unlikely to overshadow the client’s renewed focus on media effectiveness, talent and ways of working. Helping clients knit together different disciplines, in particular e-commerce and shopper marketing, will also continue to emerge as important variables for the future. The good news is that as an industry we’ve learned a lot this year. Agencies have embraced the change that comes with ‘virtual pitching’ and are much better prepared for the volume of activity ahead. The role of the consultant has evolved as well, and brands may look to advisors more than ever to manage the new environment and process. During a review, marketers need to remain totally focused on assessing the agency’s ability to understand their business and help them drive growth. By the same token, agencies need to remain squarely focused on demonstrating their ability to make that happen with industry-leading strategies, technology, tools and people.