An Auckland adman has hit out at the pitching process that requires competing advertising agencies to duke it out for a client's affection.
"It's always fun to take a pop at agencies. It's easy sport," says Hunch founder Michael Goldthorpe.
"But the thing we don't talk about so often is how frustrating it might be to spend valuable time dancing in such a beauty parade, only to be judged on face value."
His comments follow a Herald column published last week relaying the experiences of an Auckland businessman who was disappointed after five agencies all spun the same yarn in a series of five meetings.
In each instance, the agencies preached from the platitude-heavy script that they "really listened to their clients" and took "a strategic approach" to their work – all without laying out exactly what they did.
But Goldthorpe thinks there's another side to this tale that's not often given airtime.
"The businessman in the story was just playing agency Tinder," says the adman.
"Trotting around town, swiping left and judging people for their profile pics. Sure, it's a way to find a date, but it's not the best way to start a relationship."
For smaller ad agencies like Hunch, it's an expensive exercise to develop creative ideas, meet potential clients and then potentially still be forced to go through a number of rounds before a decision is made.
Some clients pay agencies for the time they put into a pitch, but that isn't always the case. Agencies ultimately have to decide whether it's worth the time, money and energy to pour into a pitch that might ultimately deliver nothing in return. And every minute spent on a pitch for a client you don't have is a minute lost on clients that are listed in the ledger.
Goldthorpe also points out that the pitching process itself is flawed and offers no guarantee of the best work being developed for the client.
"The best work in the market comes from the best relationships, with both sides working together to make each other better and increase the commercial value of a business or brand," says Goldthorpe.
"It takes time to build those relationships."
It is in this longer-term approach, he argues, that you actually start to see the strategic value of good marketing.
"Let's be honest, you can always find agencies who don't quite measure up but can also find clients who don't either.
"And we can have a whine and write a column and poke fun at it. Or we can look at ourselves and ask what I could do better?"
Goldthorpe isn't alone in expressing frustration at the pitching process – and some agencies have even gone further by refusing to participate in certain pitches.
Probably the best example would be the legendary US ad agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, which has long had a policy of refusing to defend any of its accounts when the client decides to put them up for pitch.
The agency took this commitment so seriously that in 2009 it even refused to pitch for the $200 million VW account when the car company's marketing team decided to test the waters with other agencies.
This misfortune consistently hits ad agencies when a business gets a new marketing head – something that happens far more regularly than it probably should.
According to research firm Spencer Stuart, the average 3.6-year tenure of a chief marketing officer is about half that of a chief executive.
When CMOs step into a new role, they often look at what they can change, and that often means reviewing their creative relationships with ad agencies.
Further research also shows that once an account goes up for pitch, the incumbent only has around a 5 to 10 per cent chance of holding onto the business – which makes the whole process a gamble, even for agencies that have a strong track record with the client.
The problem is that pitches are such an entrenched part of the industry that failure to participate could mean missing out on the best accounts. And that ultimately means the beauty parade, the Tinder games and wasted minutes are likely to continue unabated for the foreseeable future.