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Agency business recovers from Covid jolt as pitches increase, conversion time shortens

After having experienced longer and at times inconclusive pitch cycles in 2020, ad agencies are now seeing a faster turnaround by clients. Industry heads believe the dull period is over and business is getting back to pre-Covid levels

After a lull of almost a year, excitement is back in the agency boardrooms as not only has there been a spike in the number of pitches but the turnaround time has also shortened.

The agencies had experienced a massive stall in client activities throughout the year 2020. And even if the pitches were happening, they were either inconclusive or took a lot of time to close. 

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Syed Amjad Ali

“Unlike the major belief that pitches disappeared amid the pandemic, they didn’t reduce drastically. But it definitely took more time for pitches to be finalised and the conversion of those pitches were not high given the uncertainty in the market. For some pitches, it took more time than usual. Some of them are getting converted now because things are getting back to normal and there is more certainty in the market. Brands have also started budgeting,” said Syed Amjad Ali, Founder, Catalysts.

Naveen Gaur

“From our agency's perspective, it can be said that the pitch activity was hectic and productive for us. We won some notable pitches such as Whirlpool, Upstox, OLX Auto, Nestle Lactogrow and Housing.com projects to name a few,” said Naveen Gaur, Deputy CEO, Lowe Lintas.

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Ranji Cherian

Ranji Cherian, President and Managing Partner, South, DDB Mudra, said, market opportunities are opening up. Therefore, clients are fast-tracking pitch projects, maybe to catch the opportunities of the season as time is of essence to get started on their marketing communication plans. Also, there has been a greater level of pitch-led activity.

He said, “Clients that had stopped working with agencies due to the adverse effects of performance during the lockdown have now revived their agency relationships. And they are back with a bang.  We are witnessing clients (in general) with greater levels of expectations (post-Covid) also calling for pitches.”

Manas Lahiri

Manas Lahiri, President, North, Havas Creative India, said this year the agency is witnessing a lot more of interesting pitch invites in the first two months itself.

“Our new business pipeline has been healthy and consistent. Most of the pitches happened within the last two quarters of 2020, which has resulted in new clients,” he said.

Amit Wadhwa

As for Amit Wadhwa, President, Dentsu Impact, there has been no recent announcements of the accounts won during the pandemic from the agency’s end. “We did win a few accounts even during the pandemic but those had stopped completely then because of the fear of uncertainty. The intensity went down a little bit during that time but after that, business has started picking up and brands seem to be in aggressive mode now. They might even look at changing their partners or approaches,” he said.

Joy Chauhan

Joy Chauhan, SVP, Managing Partner, Wunderman Thompson, said normalcy was returning.

“The usual pitch time is around 21 days and we are still away from getting that duration of time. We are witnessing early signs of return to normalcy and we will have to wait for another quarter before we know whether pitches are back to normal for sure,” said Cherian.

However, Wadhwa believes that to an extent, pitches have come to the normal state like before.

With a buoyant macro-economic environment as indicated from the forecasts by reputable international financial organisations and our Central Government, India looks poised to have a good 2021-22. This is reflected in the marketing environment with a forecast of double-digit growth. As brands look to unlock the next phase of growth in the pandemic environment, they are on the lookout for creative partners that can get them moving in these times with a sound communication strategy.

Gaur added that turnaround time largely depends on the scale of the projects and the business challenges identified in the brief.

“We are careful about when to step on to the pitching field as any pitch takes a considerable amount of time. It is important for us to choose our pitches when current client work is on an upswing. To deliver the right solution, we seek enough time to go through the right process, which requires 30-60 days,” he added.

With a renewed business outlook, especially with March being round the corner, Lahiri is witnessing a lot of action across the industry in terms of new brand rollouts and agency selection so that clients can work at an optimum level over the entire next financial year with newly selected partners.

Pitches to continue via online mode

While agencies do miss the thrill of physical pitches and the advantage it brings to see the client face-to-face, Lahiri said emulating that chemistry is difficult in an online scenario, particularly where one is meeting most of the clients for the first time.

Also, physical meetings do make the process of decision-making easier and faster.

He added, “Most of it is currently online. We haven’t really encouraged meeting clients offline, keeping in mind the safety of our employees and that of the clients. However, we are hopeful that normalcy will return soon and the energy and fun of real-time pitches will be back in full swing.”

Wadhwa said most clients are still comfortable with virtual pitching. although the agency is open to going and meeting people in person.

“It is difficult to say how it will change in the coming months but I still feel there are huge benefits in terms of being physically present, since you can express yourself better and even questions are free-flowing. There is a beauty of virtual medium, also. So going forward, I believe there will be a bit of both,” he added.

Sharing his experience, Cherian said almost all projects that the agency has pitched for has been online. "Some clients do request offline presence as well," he said.

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