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Agencies pitching for competing clients: Yay or Nay?

The number of pitches the market has seen this year is simply astounding. Many of those simultaneous pitches are from competing clients, looking for agencies for the same services.

Now in an ideal world, agencies should be selective in the clients they choose to pitch for, but this is not always the case. Agencies, given the revenue pressure, are ravenous for new businesses especially in an age where marketing dollars are stretched to their limits.

So when two competing clients, equally big in stature, call a pitch, agencies often end up scrambling for both the businesses. However, this is not something that sits well with all clients.

Smart clients who are thorough in their brief, expect agencies to be equally thorough in pitching ideas exclusively for the brand. They are open to sharing certain sensitive information about their company during the pitch process. Nonetheless, this comes with the fear of the outside market catching onto your game plan. And if an agency is to simultaneously pitch for a direct competitor, this fear heightens.

Speaking to Marketing, Corrinne Koh head of marketing for Eu Yan Sang said for the company the selection process of agency partners often takes into consideration that the agencies are not already working on competing brands or pitching for competitors, especially once they have won the account.

However, if the agency is willing to share during the pitch process itself that they are also vying for a competitor account, it is fair play, Koh  said. But, nonetheless this factor will be taken into consideration.

Jacqueline Loh, Scoot’s head of marketing said that Scoot is a brand that prides itself on fresh marketing approaches that keep to its unique “Scootitude” DNA. Hence any agency pitching for Scoot’s work would need to recognise the need for a tailored approach and “an understanding that there can be no client conflict on the agency’s end”.

“In such a hypothetical situation [where an agency is pitching for Scoot and a competitor], the pitching agency can’t and won’t be presenting the concept of Scootitude to our competitor. If such a situation were to happen to Scoot, the agency won’t be able to secure both brands’ business due to conflict of interest,” Loh said.

Agency consultants defend the move

Marketing consultants we spoke to however did not deem the issue as unethical.

Darren Woolley, managing director of TrinityP3 acknowledged this to be an issue that really does upset marketers during a pitch, “primarily because they have a distorted view of the purpose of the process.”

He explained that both the agencies involved and the marketers represent commercial business entities. And the purpose of each is to provide products or services to a customer base, in return for payment and maintain a profitable business.

If you ask an agency to tender for your business, with no promise of success or compensation for their time and value, and bind them to a confidentiality agreement that excludes them telling anyone else they are pitching for your business, then where is the legal or ethical requirement in this to tell you if they are pitching for a competitive business?

He added that this is in fact an opportunity for marketers to perhaps move the process forward.

After all if you are interested in this agency, as is your competitor, then perhaps you should snap them up and not put everyone through a long and arduous process.

And for a client, if the agency is not their first choice anyway, then where is the harm in the agency maximising its opportunities? questions Woolley.

“I think this has more to do with the inherent attitude of entitlement that creeps into many organisations, which blinds them to the fact that they operate in a competitive market where they compete for the best agencies and the best suppliers.”

Richard Bleasdale, regional managing partner, Asia Pacific at Roth Observatory International too did not think pitching for competing clients was unethical. What would be unethical is for them not to tell the clients and ensure they are comfortable with the matter.

“Pitches these days tend to have very tight confidentiality commitments for agencies, as marketers share details of their marketing strategies and business performance. Hence, obviously any marketer would want to feel comfortable that their sensitive marketing information is secure – this would have to be assured by the agency in the first place,” said Bleasdale.

But he remained positive that most experienced marketers understand that new business is critical for agencies to grow and to retain talent. So, as long as the agency is open about its intent and can assure and maintain confidentiality between the competing clients, there really should not be too much of an issue.

 
Rezwana Manjur
Regional Editor
Marketing Magazine Singapore
Rezwana Manjur, a true blue city girl and complete social animal, spends half her time sifting through advertising scandals, and the other half testing out brands' retail marketing strategies at the mall. She enjoys traveling and fantasising over the charming lads on hit TV show Mad Men. Most weekends, she turns nocturnal, except when brunch comes into play.

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