Ideas for nothing? (english)


Last week I stumbled on an article that really amused me. Not new by any means, but it could have been written yesterday. A guy working at an ad agency decided to get his apartment painted. Nothing unusual there – except the way he went about getting quotes for the work. He decided to get the housepainters to pitch for it.

“Steppmüller Wall Painters and Stucco Plasterers, what can we do for you?“

“Good day, this is Schmid from Düsseldorf. I intend to get my apartment walls painted. I’d like to invite you to a pitch. When can you be here?”

“Pitch? You mean an estimate?”

“No, a pitch, working on spec. You paint a part of the wall for free in advance to demonstrate your knowledge about off-white.”

You’ll find the rest of the story here!

So what do you think? Great idea, isn’t it? But none of us would ever do it. Yet marketing agencies get this type of request every day. We received one ourselves not long ago. It was for a project with a budget of €50,000. Nothing wrong with that – except that there was a restriction. Agency fees couldn’t exceed 10% of that sum. The rest was earmarked for online media costs for a pan-European, big-bang campaign. And for the princely sum of €5000, they wanted strategy development, conceptual work, implementation examples in 4 languages, a media plan, schedule and – last but not least – a detailed prognosis of the results they could expect. But that wasn’t all! They made a part of the €5000 fee dependent on results. If the campaign wasn’t successful, the agency would only be paid half, so €2500. Tempting, eh? Oh, they also said we’d better make sure our presentation was good, because five ROI of 5S programagencies would be pitching against one another.

You might think I’m exaggerating. I only wish I were. Perhaps I should mention the target group too. Companies with five or more employees, across all industries, and the contact person would be different in each case, depending on company size and industry. But they should be “some type of manager”. Right, that’s good to know. And what’s the USP of the product? “It’s faster and saves money.” Aha. Great. And what were they hoping to achieve with this campaign? They didn’t know. “We’ll leave that up to your creativity,” they said. I’m not kidding – that was exactly what the briefing said.

Sometimes I dream of a sort of Wikileaks for briefings. Agencies can enter the briefings they’ve received and vote on the “best” one. But I digress. Briefings – and expectations of what an agency can do – are often absurd. Some of these firms think it doesn’t matter – or it’s not relevant – if they don’t have a coherent business strategy, as long as the ads look cool. Maybe we’re affected by clichés like Mad Men and the rest. Unlike the famous New York agency, we don’t have cigarettes balanced on our bottom lip with a whiskey in one hand and a secretary in the other. So how do ideas, concepts and strategies get developed? Well, Don Draper (the protagonist of Mad Men for those who haven’t seen it) might make time for them after a visit to one of his many lovers, between yet another cigarette and the 6th whiskey of the day. But not too much time; he doesn’t bother with market research, analyses and prognoses. And he looks so cool with his feet up on the table, right? The series might be describing the way ad agencies were in the 60s, but the image has stuck! It bears about as much similarity to the way an agency really works as Baywatch does to the real job of a lifeguard. I think that’s the only explanation for requests like this: “In Q2 we’ll need 1000 qualified leads. Target group is management in midsized companies. Oh, and our budget is limited to $10,000.” There are several like this. I’d be really interested to find out who prepares these pitches. Management, a marketing specialist, sales staff? If not, then who? Any thoughts?

Best,

Philipp Brüggen

PS: By the way, if you’re wondering how to deal with briefings properly, you could do worse than take a look at our briefing form here . We can’t guarantee it’s exhaustive and certainly won’t apply to every project. Nevertheless, it’s a good start and will help you avoid exposure on the blog of some agency owner or other!

PPS: No time to download the form? Then check out these points. These are how we detect that a potential customer has put some thought into the project.

  1. Is the briefing well thought through and – especially – does it provide a clear description of our tasks? This shows us that the customer has spent time on the RFP.
  2. Who takes part in the briefing and the presentation? This indicates how important the project is for the company.
  3. Is the budget realistic? It doesn’t have to be huge, but is an indication of how much experience the customer has with this type of campaign.
  4. The goals may be challenging, but are they achievable? Even difficult projects should have realistic goals.

Does the customer offer to pay a pitch fee? This shows that the customer understands the time and effort involved in a pitch, especially if they want a good idea of what we can do.