Take 'The Pitch,' Please

After several viewings of "The Pitch," I have finally hit the high-water mark on the pain of watching something so far from the truth.

The AMC original series airing Sunday nights purports to provide viewers with “an intense, gripping, never-before-seen glimpse inside America’s top ad agencies.”

My advertising career began 15 years ago, and I believed then, as I do now, that it’s all of our jobs to find solutions to business problems and to drive sales for clients’ products and services. Clearly, that isn’t how the briefs are being written for these competing agencies.

"The Pitch" has managed to demonstrate that the value agencies bring to marketers is a commodity -- an expendable “product” -- and implies that agencies are nothing more than idea generators.

We are and should be viewed as business partners that help drive revenue growth in the marketplace.

During the Popchips episode, agencies were asked for a “social idea” in an off-the-cuff, flimsy brief looking for that “one big idea that could really help take our brand to the next level” in the words of PopChips CEO Keith Belling.



The winning agency, Conversation, came up with a video and an app -- the big idea, according to the client. I’m sorry to break this to you, but a video and social aggregator are far from being the pillars of a big idea. These feel like tactics to experiencing a brand. What is the broader platform?

I don't blame the warrior agencies that are putting themselves out there on national cable TV to go to battle for the glory of winning each pitch in question. My passion for this business is deeply rooted in the quest for new challenges.

If "The Pitch" is to be believed, marketers can easily live without marketing programs and executions grounded in a sound strategy.

Can someone explain to me why we neglect to speak about the art of “the pitch” and our industry?

Conversation and other agencies dig deep to find the insights that make people tick. Agencies build models for smart consumer targeting to deliver the right idea, message and placement to the customer. Agencies sometimes create new products and revenue streams for clients. Modern marketing calls for the creation of products and services to be part of the answer.

Many agencies even manage the back-end technology that powers ad campaigns online to gauge what is working in market and what is not and why it’s working and why not, and then determine how to change the media mix.

Chase’s mobile application allows you to make a payment or deposit a check by taking a photo of it with your smartphone. The retail bank is using this app as a focal point of its advertising. What’s being marketed? Is it the app, is it the marketing or is it a message about the app?

Agencies are helping to build that next branded app, product or service. Ideas today are not a cross-channel message blast. They must add value to customers. As with the Chase app, the messaging itself could be the marketer’s product.

Let's break down the real world versus "The Pitch."

Real world: A pitch takes an average of three months to complete.

The Pitch: Agencies get one week.

Real world: Agencies are asked to build a strategic value proposition grounded in a fundamental insight.

The Pitch: The brief fails to mention the consumer targets and what potentially makes them tick.

Real world: Agencies are asked to build a creative platform that delivers value to customers and revenue for the brand.

The Pitch: Agencies must demonstrate an idea brought to life to meet a tactical challenge.

Real world: Agencies must understand and deploy a cross-channel performance model.

The Pitch: Hmm, that sounds like a good idea.

Maybe this show is a testament to the challenges in our business and why our industry is facing commoditization. It is “reality”-based in so much as it’s about ad agencies competing for a piece of business.

Any resemblance to the reality of the marketing world ends there.

6 comments about "Take 'The Pitch,' Please".
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  1. Gordon Plutsky from 21 Advisors, May 31, 2012 at 12:09 p.m.

    Great post - could not agree more. At our marketing agency our mission is to solve business problems for our clients that result in measurable sales improvement. Too many people think marketing or advertising is a collection of tactics or award winning creative. The whole point of marketing is to move the sales needle.

    Gordon Plutsky
    King Fish Media

  2. Cammie Buerry from On Target Media, May 31, 2012 at 12:46 p.m.

    I agree that the show does not portray what we really experience in advertising. Nor does it explore the partnership that is built between an agency and a client. But I would argue that most people recognize that the point of "reality" TV is not reality but rather simple entertainment. Given what we see in the hour of the show, I have to believe that the agencies are provided with more background information on the target market than what we see. The entire process doesn't make sense and the agencies don't have a chance of succeeding without that information. And let's face it - even the best of us would be hard pressed to come up with an entire cross platform marketing plan in only 7 days. In our office the show always makes for great water cooler conversations. It is just entertainment.

  3. Jim Kras from Whole Products Group, May 31, 2012 at 1:25 p.m.

    I agree. I find the "Pitch" to be unwatchable. AMC should be ashamed for putting this on tv after MadMen. The Pitch further cheapens an industry currently suffering from an identity and credibility crisis brought on by its own hand. Someone should step in and help explain how the ad business has gotten away from fundamentals and put itself back in a vendor role after years of trying to be more than a tactical option. I would find that storyline much more interesting.

  4. Russel Wohlwerth from Wohlwerh Consulting Group LLC, May 31, 2012 at 3:44 p.m.

    Excellent post Michael. Beyond the challenge of editing hundreds of hours of film down to 45 minutes, the director's preference for turning this into a human drama -- and skipping over the important details of a pitch -- makes this a boring show. I have worked in marketing all my life and this show can't hold my interest for 30 minutes. I wonder what the average viewer thinks? I guess the ratings tell the story.

  5. Gabriel Greenberg from RGM Group, May 31, 2012 at 3:52 p.m.

    Love your post, I was thinking the same thing after a recent view of the show.

  6. Rick McNeely from Mandoor, May 31, 2012 at 4:18 p.m.

    Great post... all your points are right on. However, it's television and for the show to survive... the reality of the reality format requires less focus on the actual "pitch" (or being industry accurate) and more time projecting the personalities of players and editing/creating engaging drama (be it real or not). Truth be told, the actual magic behind responding to an RFP and creating a viable proposal and pitch is pretty boring. Most of the ad viewing public on AMC are more interested in family stress, office romance, conflict and comedy than reality. My hope for a reality show is that two agencies are stranded on a desert island and have to find a way to be rescued. We could call it Ogilvy Island.

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