Life’s a pitch for agencies and brands – but change is coming

Pitch processes in media

Whether you love them or loathe them, media agency reviews and having to pitch for new and existing clients is a fact of life for any business.

But the current pitch and review processes are out of date and could even pose a risk to a brand’s growth prospects, as Ed Cox, the Founder and CEO of Yonder Media explains…

Ed Cox, Founder & CEO Yonder Media
Ed Cox, Founder & CEO Yonder Media

The media industry, like many other industries during these times of unprecedented change, has experienced considerable disruption to its usual process.  

Porter Novelli

One consequence of this is a record year for media reviews, with an estimated 40% increase in pitches over the previous year.  

Unsurprisingly, many brands which stuck by their agencies through a very difficult 2020, are now beginning to re-evaluate their needs.  

They recognise that the pandemic has accelerated a number of underlying trends in people’s behaviour, and it is therefore critical to have access to the kind of strategic talent that understands audiences and can develop new strategies.   

So far, so to be expected. Or so you might think. What is surprising, given the need to ensure such a shake-up, is that there does not yet seem to be any major disruption in the way media reviews are run.  

Pitch process beauty parade

Global media reviews tend to be beauty parades amongst the usual suspects – a handful of big global media buying agencies – fashion house Chanel’s media review being the latest case in point. 

This is a scenario that emerged out of necessity some 20 years’ ago when media was quite the wild west in many parts of the world, operating with limited transparency and creating a vast gulf between good and bad practice across different markets.  

Beauty parade of the media review
Strike a pose: Cox says the beauty parade style of review is outdated.

Global agencies set out to tackle this challenge through standardised planning processes and contracts – creating a top-down strategy which was handed out to the markets to implement, alongside the promise of global media-buying cost savings. But that was 20 years’ ago.  

Times have changed and we now have a distinct lag between process and effectiveness. While some clients and pitch consultants are looking at new client-agency models and putting strategy and data higher up the score sheet, we’re still seeing ‘media value’ and the deal as the dominant selection criteria.  

Consumer change

As consumers around the world are becoming more discerning, looking for more personalised and tailored experiences, so brands need to create campaigns that reflect an understanding of these nuanced audience experiences.  

A global response in itself is not the problem, but rather it’s when the drive for a global response elicits a top-down, value-led solution which then isn’t sensitive to these nuances.

Such a solution effectively drives a strategy down-grading – in favour of driving the outcomes that procurement can most easily measure.  

This kind of one size fits all approach is now a bigger risk to brand success than the lack of transparency and media best practice of 20 years’ ago.  

one size fits none ©mark johnson
Size matters: Cox says the old one size fits all approach is now a risk to brands. Photo: ©Mark Johnson, Mediashotz

Media effectiveness today should be recognised to be much less about how much media and how many GRPs were delivered and much more about tailoring media experiences that cut through and connect with audiences at different stages of the purchase journey. 

It’s not that global brands aren’t recognising the impact of these more discerning consumers on their competitive brand set. 

They see that there are now more agile, high growth brands in the market that move faster and are starting to ‘eat their lunch’; and that they are fighting battles with these brands globally, alongside a myriad of local ones too. 

In response to this some have hived off certain brands in their portfolios as innovation centres, with permission to push the envelope in marketing including in their agency arrangements. 

Breaking the agency model

It’s exciting to see these brands developing more audience-centric products and propositions and marketing them in bolder, more tuned-in ways. 

A handful of Global FMCG giants from Unilever to P&G are breaking the traditional agency model, whether through appointing agencies outside of their existing big global agreements, or by bringing media planning in house. 

But beyond the pioneers, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see more global brands taking this bolder approach and revolutionising media agency reviews. 

Let’s move beyond the templated pre-requisite of having a global media-buying footprint, open up the field to a more diverse range of agencies and free ourselves from a one size fits all solution.  

And let’s think instead about how global brands can find and access more boutique solutions – ones that will enable them to keep pace with the new generation of more agile, audience-centric brands.