Ad agency pitches on Facebook Live: not going to change the norm

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A local discovery platform called Nearbuy called for an ad agency pitch through Facebook Live. Apparently many agencies have responded – one through its own Facebook Live video. There’s been some debate around this event among ad industry professionals. Herewith my views:

Pitches are an occupational hazard of the ad industry. Most ad agencies – even the big ones, pitch for business. Essentially it is a speculative exercise with no guarantee of results. It often uses the best resources of an agency (sometimes at the cost of work of a paying client) can be time consuming and expensive. Some agencies take pride in being on a pitch mode perpetually (particularly with respect to churning out work in the last minute, working late, working all night, starting the work day late and so on) and even wear ‘working late’ proudly as a badge. It has its negative effects. As Steffan Postaer says:

Fear is a powerful motivator but it comes at a tremendous price. Fear makes people do bad things to other people and to themselves. Fear creates an environment of hostility and mistrust. Mocking the so-called trend to “work from home,” people are afraid to leave at a reasonable hour, aware of the critical eyes upon them.

Yes, pitches do have positives. The occasional pitch galvanises a team (sometimes an entire office) and imbues them with energy and passion. The late nights can all be worth it if it improves team work, delivers interesting work and eventually improves the agency reputation and bottomline through a win. New business wins, like money, attracts more business. 

Some agencies have a ‘no pitch’ policy but that’s a rarity. Most agencies do not have a choice but to participate in pitches since they have to take the risk in order to meet top-line & bottom line targets. Clients love it – why wouldn’t they? They get truck loads of ideas for free, since the concept of a pitch fee is not the norm. Many clients question the concept of a pitch fee itself as they believe the financial upsides (and the prestige of working with a well-known brand) is worth the time & money spent by agencies during pitches. Pitches also bring out the “best” of agencies in terms of undercutting, collectively harming the industry. There is a caste system among agencies too – the big fish need to be ‘invited’ for a pitch especially if it is a relatively unknown or boring brand. The smaller fish are desperate for business and will often pitch for any business.

In this context, I think the idea to use Facebook Live to call for a pitch was a smart move. It got media publicity for the brand. some rub-off about being innovative and going by reports, ad agency proposals too. But as far as using Facebook Live is concerned, it was just a gimmick. Facebook Live or any other ‘live’ video for that matter, works best with these characteristics: it showcases an event which has got some element of topicality. The operative words being ‘event’ (an activity for example) and ‘topicality’. That’s why a video of just the surroundings of a building on Periscope would be far less interesting than say live video of dolphins doing an act in a zoo or the unveil of a gadget at a trade show. The latter has some activity and an element of ‘here and now’. A talking head giving a speech could very well be a YouTube suitable for later viewing. However, the CEO of Nearbuy did articulate his views on the brand and the expectations very well. The agency response on video however was far less interesting for, primarily because it wasn’t showcasing a live event, here and now – it was just an extempore talk. 

Anyway, the pitch process in the ad industry will continue unchanged. 

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