Chris Moerdyk
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Chris Moerdyk
Marketing Tips

Are ad agencies too timid to stand up to unscrupulous clients?

Why is there so much crap advertising about today? And why is it that unscrupulous clients are able to rip off agencies during pitch processes without so much a twinge of guilt about stealing ideas and defrauding intellectual capital?
The answer to this is quite simply that agencies just can't get it together to stand united. They've spoken about it a lot and its representative bodies would love to see an end to all this, but there is always one agency that foregoes long term security for greedy or desperate short term gain.

There is no question that clients are ruling the roost today - from the pitch process right through the association they have with their agencies.

Not only is the process of creative pitching costing a fortune with some agencies investing R1 million or more in a single pitch, but a lot of agencies seem happy to sell the family jewels, to flog off the only worthwhile asset they have, if it brings them closer to getting the business.

An agency MD called me recently about a conversation she had with someone in the ad department of one of our bigger medical aid companies. When she asked if the incumbent agency was being fired and if that was why they were putting their account out to pitch she was told straight; "Oh no we're not changing our agency, we just do this from time to time just to see what new ideas come up. "

Now apart from it having been proved conclusively that creative pitches are not necessary, this whole business of stealing intellectual capital is something ad agencies can ill afford. But they keep doing it.

Probably pacified by the client's insistence that they will "never use the ideas from unsuccessful agencies, that come out of the pitch process."

Problem is that's no guarantee. Everyone knows what a problem it is for creatives who watch hundreds of award showreels and then years later "innocently" come up with an idea they swear blind is original but which was embedded in their subconscious while they were watching the showreels.

Who is to say clients won't experience the same "innocent" thing?

But pitches aide, another problem is that when they actually get the business, some agencies are so desperate to keep it that they will do anything the client wants. Or what the client's wife wants.

This combined with egos that won't allow them to admit that their predecessors probably did a great job in developing brands and campaigns, all ends up in a situation where doing something different becomes the be-all and end all of an ad campaign.

Which is why there is so much utter crap on our TV screens these days. Quite frankly, agencies have got to start standing up against these clients who are not only playing havoc with agency assets but giving the ad industry a really bad name.

I know its easy for me to sit and pontificate, I'm not the one faced with laying off staff brought on by account losses and so forth. But, in the long term it is in everyone's interests to stand firm and clean up the pitch process and stand even firmer and not allow unskilled clients to dictate dumb marketing moves.

31 Aug 2011 11:04


About Chris Moerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.