You Only Give Me Your Funny Paper.

Agencies are addicted to pitching.

It can be fun, for sure. And deeply theatrical, if you like that kind of thing. Which lots of us do. 

But is it, if we’re honest, a good way to make decisions, or to sell work (depending on your perspective)?

Probably not.

And that’s not just because of the absurd ‘economics’ of pitching, or the fact that looking to develop a serious long-term creative relationship through pitching is like trying to develop a serious long-term personal relationship in a brothel. It’s that the nature of pitching puts clients seriously on the spot.

That’s the conclusion I came to when listening to the rather brilliant Professor Madan Pillutla last year.

He works at London Business School.

The Professor does a great presentation on ‘negotiation’, or getting agreement. And it turns out that a good ‘negotiation’ looks very little like your classic pitch.

First off, says Pillutla, losses are more painful than gains are pleasurable – so humans will do almost anything to avoid what they perceive as the possible risk of loss. This will, of course, it seems to me mean rejecting the bolder creative route that gives more cut-through and is likely to achieve much better sales in favour of its ‘safe’ counterpart which will not.

Moreover, it’s important to get ‘early agreement on small issues’. Apparently this makes it much more likely you’ll settle the big issues – because people then have skin in the game. Human beings like being consistent. If you ask for small things, it’s easy for them to give them to you. When later you ask for big things they will give you them to you, even if they don’t really want to – because they want to be consistent. The process of a pitch is directly the opposite – seeking to get agreement on ‘the big idea’ before turning to the nuts and bolts.

All of which suggests that we should be much more collaborative, much more iterative and inclusive when it comes to interfacing with our clients. (And, whatever the imperious ‘creative’ loonies who are currently running too many of the agency asylums might think, clients do have the odd good idea from time to time.)

The big-bang, all-or-nothing, out-there, ask-for-everything-upfront dynamic of a pitch is fundamentally flawed, for client and agency alike.

It’s time to move on.

– this piece first published by The Marketing Society