Thursday, June 14, 2012

On Agency Pitches and Ancient Practices

In the ad agency world, we are frequently called on to pitch new business. This is universally understood to be a mode that takes several weeks, requires just about everyone's labor, and a 24/7 commitment from all parties. In short, it is hell.

Recently I have started to wonder why pitches are like this. We routinely turn around business-critical work under tight deadlines and unreasonable client expectations. And though there can be lots of late nights, there are usually established processes and roles that help to increase efficiency and divide labor. For digital work, we can use some form of Waterfall (yucko) or the more efficient processes, like Scrum and Kanban, that fall under the Agile framework. In traditional print, TV and radio, there are departments that manage the workload in shifts, spreading the responsibility of delivery fairly evenly.

But pitches are an area in which I have yet to encounter any process or working agreement at all. There is only an imperative: win the business at any cost.

I have come to believe that in the absence of any model or set of guidelines for completing this (admittedly important) work, people resort to primitive rituals to meet the goals of the agency/tribe.

From the moment the Request for Proposal arrives, there is a sense that we have been given a sign from the Gods. They have signaled that they will make it rain only if we collectively demonstrate sufficient reverence and sacrifice to satisfy their every whim.

Immediately tribe members are told to stop their normal planting and harvesting activities and prepare for the coming ritual.

There is a war room (cave) selected. We sit around the big table (fire) and begin the long, long conversation (prayer). Print outs and sketches (cave paintings) are put up on walls. Regular meetings are scheduled so that the representative elders and their minions can perfect the rain dance.

As the pitch date approaches time loses all meaning, food is ordered at all hours, tribe members break off in smaller groups and reconvene regularly to pray and dance. People start to brag about how they slept on the couch and had to run across the street in the morning to buy a toothbrush. The tribe turns nocturnal and there is the expectation of human sacrifice.

Honestly, if we did not have modern laws and morals, I suspect that the tribe would elect one member to be pushed off the roof the night before the pitch.

To question any of this is seen as a threat to the wellbeing of the tribe. Those who demonstrate a lack of faith have their work ethic called into question. If a tribe member continues to perpetuate this heresy, he or she may be banished from the tribe altogether.

For only the Gods make it rain, and unless we keep praying and dancing, we shall feel Their Wrath.