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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Pitching in a monstrous economic climate (Part I)

human.kind has just wrapped up a punishing two months of re-pitching on several of our long-term accounts. This was not expected. The truth is, we were blindsided. In retrospect though, we probably had it coming. If you've read my previous rants, you'll know what I'm getting at. Be that as it may, being the incumbent agency is a weird trip and I'm going to share it with you.
Before we get to the fight, let's weigh in. We're a medium-sized agency, constantly pushed to capacity in terms of workload. We've got limited resources, limited room for error and, with a handful of our legacy clients, limited clout. To give a historical perspective, I think a few of our older clients see us as more of a "churn agency". That's probably what we were when we started out - when our business was young and so was theirs. It's not a nice thing to see written on a page, but when I look around at the enthusiastic, inspired faces of the beautiful, creative people that I have the privilege of working with, I can honestly say we have evolved and today we're so much more than that.

The original underdog

What we are, however, in this fight that pitted us against nine of the country's top creative agencies, is the original underdog. And as any old movie will have taught you by now, you're a dick if you don't root for the underdog.

The folks arbitrating this process will tell you that I'm blowing things out of proportion and that we were only pitching against three agencies per brand. What they won't tell you is that there was a delightful sub-clause in the legal literature that states if they're impressed with a pitch on any of the three brands, they're entitled to mix and match agencies with brands as they see fit. So yeah, nine agencies... vs human.kind. Heavy odds? You bet.

I think when you consider the odds, we could have been forgiven for throwing in the towel. But we didn't. At times during the past two months it was like watching an '80s classic where the freaks and geeks turn the tables on the opposition and get all fired up to "give it one last shot". I swear to you there were nights in the office and weird time distortions that made me feel like we were actually living a cheesy training montage. This probably had a lot to do with the amount of liquor we consumed during the process, which was staggering but absolutely necessary (and no one got sloppy). Not to mention the lack of sleep. When we were breaking bread at 2300 on most evenings and encouraging each other keep on pushing until the jobs were done, that's when things were clearest. I guess that's what it's like when people are fighting for each other and their livelihoods. I know advertising has been labelled a whorish industry and that jumping from agency to agency is not just commonplace but encouraged. We're not that agency though. Most of us choose to work here because we like each other. We've been fighting for our jobs for sure, but even in this brutish economic climate, many of us have just been fighting to keep the family together.

Learning from adversity

When we got the news, it came fast and it came hard, and when the bomb dropped we were gutted. Gutted, but driven. There were and still are about 20 jobs on the line, some with rent to pay and some with mouths to feed, and we knew if we actually had a legitimate shot at retaining the business, we could make everything better for us and for the client. And that's why we chose to fight.

Did it work? No. We got nothing back. Not a sausage. Did we ever have a legitimate shot? I doubt it. The work was logical, strategically thought out and executed beautifully with both love and craftsmanship.

Has this been a colossal waste of time? No, I don't think so. Because what I can say is that our agency is forever changed, and that's a good thing. This story doesn't end here. We've learned a couple of things about ourselves during this process and because of this - as well as in spite of it - we're going to be that ex-girlfriend who looks super-hot a year after you break up with her and you sit at home wondering why you left her for the pushy jerk you're dating now.

About Matt Rowles

Matt Rowles is Head of Copy at Human.Kind Advertising. Follow @humankind_SA on Twitter.
Mongezi Mtati
Some riveting stuff here. A lot worth thinking about.I can't wait for Part 2 :-)
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 09:23
Matthew Rowles
Glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, I'm looking forward to Part 2 myself.
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 10:50
Gillian Rightford
It sounds like you've been to hell and back. This type of pitch process is the root of all evil IMHO. But trust me ( I hate it when people say that), it will make you stronger, and sometimes when a door closes, something far more interesting walks in.
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 11:09
Roger Smythe
Thanks for the article Matt. Relevant to everyone who's ever worked for a smaller shop.Looking forward to part 2
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 12:44
Cant wait for part 2 either. I sincerely do have sympathy for media/creative agencies when they have to do pitches. Most of the time the teamwork and drive within these agencies is something to witness whilst preparing for the pitch, but the dissapointment of not getting the business is not nice to witness. I wish humankind all the best for this year and I pray that business would be on track soon.
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 12:53
Beverley Bradley
Good one Matt!
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 13:55
Matthew Rowles
Thanks Gillian! Yeah, that's what we're counting on.
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 15:55
Matthew Rowles
Cheers Sandra. Yeah, it was actually a pretty awesome experience on the whole. It's cool to see everyone still fired up even after the December break.
Posted on 18 Jan 2013 15:56
Matthew Rowles
Thanks Roger!
Posted on 19 Jan 2013 19:47
Damon Stapleton
Respect to you my Matthew. There is great nobility in what you have done. You could have given in but you didn't. I would guess you have made a bond between the people that work there that cannot be broken. I pitched close to 20 times in a year and won very little. Looking back it created the bond that took us forward. And when all is said and done, the client gets the advertising they deserve. You did your best. And that is all you can do.
Posted on 21 Jan 2013 07:39
Matthew Rowles
Thanks Damon!
Posted on 21 Jan 2013 09:09