Monday, February 18, 2008

The pitch: desire for change meets resistance to change

Everyone seems to be asking for a new way to approach the challenges of marketing.
The trades are constantly suggesting that marketers want a new kind of agency, new skills, new partners, new new media approaches, new measurement tools.

And like a lot people, I work at one of those companies that is trying to approach the problem in a different way. In our case, the big difference is a network model. Rather than trying to employ someone with every potential skill any client might need, we start with a strategic engagement and then, once we figure out what the client’s brand requires, enlist the necessary partners (from web designers to search specialists to old fashioned art directors to organizational alignment pros) to address it.

The idea is that we can assemble the best available talent for whatever the job requires without having to keep them all on staff. Of course, this model has it’s share of challenges as well, but I’m not bringing this up to promote our approach so much as to use it as an example of how rigid conventions can be, even when everyone seems to want to change them.

Marketers, and the search consultants who represent them, seem to be excited to work with a company with a new model, but everything about the traditional search approach--with it's big final show revealing the spec creative--more or less restricts the search to traditional agencies.

So here's the dilemma. We've created a model that is designed to address some of the key issues raised by marketers over issues they've had with past agencies..
1) They want best-in-class talent in all the various disciplines, from interactive to media to PR, etc, which is almost impossible for a traditional agency, even really good ones.
2) They want a media-agnostic approach. Most agencies say they are media agnostic but the talent still has be in-house for the biz model to work.
3) For some, they feel like the agency is more interested in creating award-winning ads than addressing their marketing problem in the most efficient way possible. Though i think this is less true today.
4) They don't want to pay for all this expensive overhead they aren't using

And yet when it comes down choosing an agency or marketing partner with a new approach they still want to do it in an old-fashioned way (with spec-creative way) which is pretty hard for us to do. For one thing, only a fraction of our clients’ brand and marketing problems are best addressed by traditional advertising. And even our “creative work” isn’t technically “ours,” at least in the sense that we did it with . It was done by one of our partners, who we identified, vetted and briefed. And we certainly can’t do work on spec, because 1) we don’t have the creative resources internally 2) we don’t even know what resources would be required until we understand the marketing problem which you generally can't do in the pitch process

In most cases, these complications have more or less kept us out of pitches. Lately, marketers seem to be inviting us anyway. In a couple cases, we’ve decided to participate on our own terms. Sometimes it's worked , which means the marketer in question adapted their pitch process to our unconventional approach and sometimes it didn't, which means they stuck to their traditional criterion of evaluation and couldn't resist the spec work that they would probably never run, assuming they needed new advertising to begin with.

The broader marketing lesson: even when you think you are giving people what you think they want, they still have a hard time giving up a familiar process. The whole "devil you know" syndrome is a lot more powerful than we sometimes give it credit for, especially in high stakes decisions. It's a lot like health insurance. But that's another story.

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