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Pitch fever in Malaysia: Can agencies really avoid the fatigue creeping up on them?

Pitch fever has overcome the marketing industry in Malaysia, with a myriad of pitches being called from U Mobile, CIMB and Celcom to TM, among others. While it can be tempting for agencies to go all in and pitch for all accounts, it is without a doubt that such a strategy would be detrimental to their resources and time.

While most agencies often say that they pick and choose the clients they want to work with, in reality, the industry does still see a significant number of repeat agencies pitching numerous times for businesses.

In a statement to A+M, Andrew Lee, president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Malaysia (4As) and managing director of Havas Immerse, said that the number of pitches reported to the (4As) has increased compared to the same period last year. According to him, the few possible reasons for the increase are procurement policies, advertisers looking for better creatives, and clients attempting to consolidate and reduce the number of agencies in their panel, among others.

“Most creative agencies will only participate in pitches they believe to be genuine and many will only pitch for profitable accounts. Most will decline to pitch when they see tell-tale signs of a fake pitch – extremely short deadlines, refusal to pay 4As pitch disbursement fee, badly written briefs and poorly organised pitches,” he said.

But at the end of the day, the ad business is a competitive one and agencies are always pushed to constantly acquire new business. Simply put, there is no simple solution to the possibility of pitch fatigue. “I think there is no easy way to grow our business apart from pitching and winning pitches. Especially with the diminishing margins and marketing budgets, the only way to grow our business is to win new business,” Lee explained.

Meanwhile, Bala Pomaleh, CEO of IPG Mediabrands Malaysia, also agreed that the Malaysian market has “definitely seen a marked increase in the number of pitches”. According to him, on the client side, there is a significant cost pressure, which prompts a constant lookout for solutions that maximise effectiveness at the lowest cost.

“We also see some clients pitch like clockwork on an annual basis in order to reduce their advertising cost,” he explained. He added that probably, only the agencies that are faring well may have some bandwidth to pick and choose pitches.

The backdrop of the industry, however, is one that has recorded stagnant growth in the last few years. All this whilst agency targets continue to grow, often at double digit growth targets, leaving agencies little choice but to aggressively pitch where possible, Pomaleh explained.

“It is recommended for an agency to conserve energy and resources for a different pitch if they feel there is no right fit or chemistry with an advertiser,” he said. Pomaleh added:

On this front, local or independent agencies generally have much more flexibility to pick and choose, as they dictate their own growth pace.

According to him, pitch fatigue is “a serious issue” and where possible, it is best to rotate people who work on pitches. Pomaleh explained that this means agencies need to have a larger team in place as it is almost impossible for smaller teams to participate in all pitches. “Enthusiasm can wear out fast, and when an emotional connection is missing, the pitch quickly loses its edge,” he said. He added:

Fatigue will faze even the most seasoned of talents, and agency heads need to steer their focus on strike rate rather than the number of pitches to participate in. Less is more in this case.

On the other hand, Shufen Goh, co-founder and principal, R3 said that it recorded a 29% decrease in the number of account moves reported in Malaysia during the first half of 2019 versus 2018. She said this can probably be attributed to the fact that there has been more pitching on project basis, with no commitment to longer contracts. Goh added:

Sentiments and vitality of the Malaysian advertising sector has been weak, and as a whole the entertainment and media sector is underperforming global average growth.

According to her, this makes an already competitive advertising agency environment even more cut throat. Compared to R3’s experience in other growth markets, Goh explained that Malaysian advertisers tend to be conservative, and still sees marketing as a cost, rather than an investment. This mindset extends to service providers in the ecosystem, including agencies and consultancies like R3, she said.

“Instead of pitching for every opportunity, agencies should be strategic in their business development. First and foremost, invest in their own capabilities and talent, upgrade their digital and technology expertise and be more selective about clients who would move beyond transaction,” she added.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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