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Making sense of the global pitch frenzy

07 Jul 2015  |  Bob Wootton 
Making sense of the global pitch frenzy

From Coca-Cola to Sony, more global media business is up for grabs than at any previous time. What does this mean, and how should we interpret it, asks ISBA's Bob Wootton.

So our summer's finally arrived with some really hot weather, and everybody's attention rightly turns to grabbing a couple of weeks of well-earned rest, probably with their loved ones and perhaps somewhere far away from the daily routine.

Just as naturally, agency managers' attention turns to making sure their forts are sufficiently-well manned over the holidays so that they can run what is often a very day-to-day business.

Clients, whose rhythms tend to be more regular, often like to put key projects out before they break and then review them on their return. Key projects like their media accounts, for example.

This summer is seeing the mother of all pitch frenzies. You surely can't have missed the news reports which cumulatively show that more global media business is up for grabs than at any previous time. MAD - Mediapost Agency Daily - calls it a tsunami of pitches.

P&G, Coca-Cola, VW group, Unilever, Sony, Coty, L'Oreal and 21st Century Fox are all reported to be reviewing. These are all big accounts, operating in dozens, if not hundreds, of markets. The review processes will be as Byzantine, widespread and probably protracted as their marketing activities necessarily are.

So - opportunity, or headache? Well both, of course, but I'd argue mainly the latter. But first, why all these reviews now?

Some - but not all - are statutory. Maybe not in Greece, but in many markets the money is coming back so companies are once again moving out of retrenched, defensive positions into innovation and attack mode.

Markets and consumers are changing, demanding different things. Usually more quickly and cheaply. Internet connectedness is now ubiquitous, particularity in developed markets. It's no longer "are you connected?" but "how do you connect?" and the answer is increasingly "on the go".

Yet brands, the lifeblood of ad revenues, are still incredibly important, whether trusted household staples or - just look to the Far East - premium brands and labels.

The routes advertisers take to market are changing too. TV has held up amazingly well as the channel of choice for major, category-leading brands, but the tech-based routes are now the biggest global plays by far and they are looking a little bit less shiny than hitherto.

Serious concerns over viewability, brand safety, anti-fraud, transparency of the complex value chain and now ad blocking are all taking their toll.

Fresh from this year's Cannes shindig, a leading industry commentator's view was that it has now been ruined by the combination of clients and tech companies seeking the most global and direct relations they can get with the former.

I find it hard to tell whether this view is just la recherche du temps perdu or something we should be concerned about. But I will offer once again in my po-faced style that some of our industry leaders' endless selfies of jollies do not befit 'business leaders'.

Advertisers' relationships with those who help them craft their communications are also shifting. This is partly because the new always-on crowdsourcable world has disintermediated the value chain. And partly because, just when advertisers need reliable, honest, capable partners to help them navigate an increasingly complicated world, instead they're coming not to trust them so much.

This is not to say that they don't trust the teams who create and place advertising day-to-day. In my experience they do, and I'll venture my personal opinion here - they should.

No, it's month to month and year to year we should be worrying about and that's in the hands of the business managers - and increasingly those who trade the big bulk media deals.

The US advertiser organisation, the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) holds a very well-attended Commercial Issues Conference event for its members (a who's who in corporate America where most marketing decision originates) each spring.

Last year saw the US client world experience a sort of slow-motion damascene conversion as they realised that all was not well in their own backyard. (They'd suspected everything was a bit fishy everywhere else for some time, of course). This year's built on that, with transparency taking such a prominent stance that a joint client-agency task force was set up to try and get to the bottom of things.

Ambitious as it might sound, we should watch how that goes with the keenest interest. There have already been a few murmured calls for a similar initiative in the UK.

And no surprise, business issues from online accountability and transparency to payment terms (yes, those again) are central to these global reviews. There are simply so many local variables on global business that it makes sense to sort out the big issues common to many, if not all, markets.

So these are the underlying reasons. The big question posed earlier in this piece is whether the agencies can actually respond effectively. One major global pitch is a serious undertaking - and cost - for an agency or holding group. Several at once, well...

There are only a small number of networks really capable of handling such accounts and there are only so many top teams within each, almost certainly fewer than the accounts up for grabs. So for the first time in my long recollection, this means that we're going to see tier-two teams pitching for tier-one global business.

Each pitch will be looking for improved value too, begging a really big question: how do agencies that have made an art form of playing value off between their clients extract yet more value above that which they already claim - without going yet further underground?

The sharp-eyed amongst you might spot that I've managed to get this far without referring to the natural tensions between marketing and procurement disciplines. Vigorous, sometimes rather blinkered but undoubtedly focused procurement has a heavy hand in the situation all advertisers and their partners find themselves in today. It won't get them out of it.

The advertisers will need all the help they can get, but from whom? The only answer lies in the small band of professional advisors who sit in the leading national and international advertiser trade associations - yes, like ISBA - and an even smaller band of specialist consultants, many of them also based in London.

So it looks like it could be a busy summer for us too. Cancel all leave?

Steady on.

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