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Every Advertiser Should Back “No Pitch December”

By Ian Darby, Content Editor, ICA

Agency selection needn’t be an opaque process governed by misunderstandings and misjudgements. At the ICA we’ve published 12 firm principles for a great agency search, providing clear, positive ways to run things, including clarity when it comes to budgets and the decision-making process.

What’s certain is that announcing a pitch near the December holiday season isn’t among those principles. Instead, they focus on the guiding idea of Qualification-Based Selection (QBS), a procurement process that concentrates on identifying the most qualified provider of creative professional services, at a fair and negotiated price.

The guiding principles also bust some myths, one of which could easily be “I’ll get the best performance and ideas from agencies if I invite them to compete for my business right before the December holiday period.” Which is just what Coca-Cola did in late 2020, calling a global review of its entire agency roster just before hard-working agency people took a well-deserved vacation.

“Enjoy your holiday season worrying about your biggest account disappearing out of the door,” could sum-up what Coca-Cola chose to say to agencies across the globe, including those in Canada. Clearly time was not of the essence since the pitch wasn’t concluded until November 2021 with a consolidation into WPP, which is creating a bespoke unit for Coke called OpenX.

Coca-Cola’s behaviour isn’t an isolated example – there will certainly be more clients behaving this way in December 2021. And that’s why the ICA called for a “No Pitch December” in Canada last year, and will continue to do the same each year until all clients end this holiday season horror. Come on advertisers, allow your own staff and those at your agency partners to celebrate Christmas, Hannukah and other festivals, before they return refreshed and ready for another year of great ideas and healthy competition during 2022.

The need for “No Pitch December” has grown in the past year because the pressure on people at agencies has risen relentlessly. The return to high levels of pitching in 2021 after the pandemic slowdown of 2020, while welcome in many ways, is also having severe negative impacts. Agencies report being pushed into corners pitching for work on terms that are unfair or less than transparent, being held to ridiculous turnaround times, and forced to plough through hundreds of irrelevant proposal pages from clients. This is already leading to burnout and resulting in talent shortages at some agencies due to high attrition rates among their people. In turn this is contributing to a damaging impact on levels of creativity that selection processes in the holiday season will only exacerbate.

But there’s a chance here for progressive brands, which value ideas, to take the initiative by supporting “No Pitch December” as part of a shift towards better agency selection based on shared values and true partnership. There’s no doubt that achieving this requires bravery on the part of both brands and their agencies – brands to select agencies in a different way and agencies to just say “no” where the conditions aren’t right. But if clients can make a start, sign up to a pledge not to call pitches or hold selection meetings either side of the holidays, then this will make things so much better for everyone.

As an important step towards this, the ICA will soon publish the second edition of our Marketing Relationship Pulse, and we’re looking for both agency and client points of view. Please click here to join us in this important survey as we aim to provide a mutual evaluation of the Canadian agency / client relationship, highlighting the perception gaps that exist in important areas such as leadership, strategy, remuneration and talent.

One thing’s for sure, launching an agency selection process in December is never going to bridge those gaps. Instead, advertisers will win by waiting well into the New Year, when the lens of fatigue has shifted from agency eyes and the ideas are flowing like water.

The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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