Leading brands calling pitches on public platforms: Game-changer or fleeting trend?

With some of the very popular brands calling pitches for strategic partnerships with ad agencies in India in a rather unconventional way, via public platforms such as LinkedIn, as opposed to the traditional closed-door processes, in this story explores whether this trend is a fleeting change or a potential game-changer for ad pitches

Shreya Negi
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Leading brands calling pitches on public platforms: Game-changer or fleeting trend?

For years now, various brands across categories have called pitches for what we call a strategic partnership with advertising agencies behind closed doors by proactively reaching out to the agencies that they thought would be a viable fit for them or in some cases, the big four-five networks of the adworld. But, time and again, there have been exceptions to this conventional way of pitching process.

In February 2017, it was the Founder and CEO of Nearbuy (formerly Groupon India), Ankur Warikoo, who went live on Facebook to invite creative agencies to show him their mettle and later even announced the winner, Enormous Brands, via a Live Feed on the social media platform.

It was in this year’s November standalone that some of the very popular brands in their category, be it Uniqlo on the lifewear side, Porsche in the automobile segment, Carmesi in the menstrual hygiene space and many others who once again reignited the trend of calling pitches on public platforms such as LinkedIn.

Viewing this, decided to reach out to several ad industry professionals on how are they perceiving the move and find out whether this new dawn of brands going the unconventional route for pitching is the new normal.

Ankur Warikoo

As per Ankur Warikoo, Founder of WebVeda and Content creator at wariCrew, who also undertook a similar route in 2017 for Nearbuy, the emerging trend of popular brands calling pitches for ad agency partners on public platforms such as LinkedIn is a really good move because it does save a lot of time for the brand and given that the brief that goes out in such cases is the same for every agency, there’s no reason why one shouldn’t just do it in one go, especially for brands that have a distribution or a reach already built in and that's precisely why such brands can and would do it.

“Calling pitch on Facebook for Nearbuy worked well because the response we got was overwhelming as almost every agency worth its salt had pitched. It was a brilliant move because if we had to go and specifically ask them to or even reach out, that would be a waste of our time,” he said.

Bodhisatwa Dasgupta

According to Bodhisatwa Dasgupta, Founder, The Voice Company, as well, the probable reason why brands are resorting to calling for pitches on Linkedin first would be that if they went the traditional route, they'd end up meeting the same top 3-5 agencies and unfortunately, a lot of good folks have left those agencies and have started creative shops of their own or even joined smaller agencies for doing a lot of fun and disruptive work. Therefore how do brands reach out to those good people or agencies who are lurking in the shadows or who haven’t existed for a century but are sharp nonetheless, the answer is simple- LinkedIn.

“I don't think a brand calling for pitches on Linkedin makes it a non-serious pitch. It just means that along with the great applications, they'll also get pretty useless ones as well, which is for the brand to slowly sift through. But at least now, they're opening themselves up to potentially fresher talent, and that can only be great news- both for the brand and the agencies,” he said.

He then went on to poke fun at how the big agencies, in his view, will have to respond to this- perhaps not through a DM, but through a whisper that's passed down in some expensive golf course somewhere!

“I think the whole idea behind posting for pitches on LinkedIn isn't to brief the agencies- it's just to identify the potential agencies one could work with and once the brand has a shortlist of some sort, based on experience, credibility, portfolio, a sense of the people working on the business, only then will the pitch process start. But it’d be silly to give out all the information, right from NDAs being signed, marketing objectives sent out, timelines discussed, etc. right in the beginning. But I do think brands calling for pitches online should give a sense of the kind of fees they have in mind because that itself is a great filter,” he said.

Just a day after Uniqlo publicly began its search for a strategic ad agency partner to shape its brand journey in the country, Dasgupta penned down an Open Letter to the brand wherein he recommended certain ways by which the brand can navigate its way to not get overwhelmed and that post went viral on LinkedIn.

Siddharth Devnani

As per Siddharth Devnani, Co-founder and Director, SoCheers, as well, popular brands in recent times have made a lot of noise by calling pitches for creative agencies on LinkedIn and therefore to sift through and find the right partner for themselves would only be similar to finding a needle in a haystack, or even worse as thousands of people would now be approaching them with their credentials.

“It is not the first time that such a thing has happened. Earlier this year, it was Singapore Tourism who did a PR push for getting an agency partner and even today, it's not very rare for brands to do such things unconventionally, but what this does is it makes the work harder and not simpler. But it is deliberate in the sense that maybe if a brand wanted to reach out to boutique agencies they would want to find out or create for themselves a database of the agencies and maybe this model makes more sense for the brands to have done this,” he said.

On the contrary, a senior ad world professional who didn’t wish to be named told that the way large brands like Uniqlo and Porsche have called out pitches on LinkedIn recently is highly immature and peculiar, specifically because there are various agencies which are already known in the market today and calling a pitch on LinkedIn only sends the message that the brand doesn’t have connections with anyone, nor the monies to pay an ‘A’ grade agency.

The source then went on to add that before posting about the pitch on LinkedIn, Uniqlo did approach a couple of agencies for the pitch but then because he/she somehow felt that Uniqlo was being a fisher, the agency refrained from participating and then couple days later the post went viral.

To support the take here, the spokesperson emphasised that up until five or seven years back, people used to call pitches on social media because not everyone had connections with good agencies, but today, there are ample agencies that have existed for decades and would be ready to enter the pitch process, if they deem it fit, quite proactively.

Upon being questioned as to whether the big or comparatively more popular ad agencies had refrained from participating in Nearbuy’s pitch at the time given the industry-wide sentiment that only the brands which are not serious about having an actual creative agency partner or don’t have the intention to go big on spending their ad monies, Warikoo replied that such wasn’t the case and that all the top 10 agencies in the country except for one had pitched in along with various smaller players as well.

“We had received a total of about 31 pitches which was 10 times more than what we would have expected and we were able to get that done,” he added.

He then went on to add that agency founders often want closed-door conversations because they believe that they know something that the others don't, but such isn’t the case as the world's completely open and that's why if a brief is public, it only invites more and more healthy competition coming in.

“There is complete symmetry of information, nobody's getting access to something that the other one isn't, and that makes the process, in my opinion, very democratic. I don't know what world agencies are living in if they want the briefing to come to them because they are an A, B or C agency. After all, everybody's equal. And in the creative world, particularly when creativity is not the ownership of a large agency, you could have anybody- somebody sitting in a one-bedroom unit churning out the best creative content for your brand as against a 200-person copywriter's team. So why would I restrict myself to somebody who I know,” he said.

He added, “Instead, I'll throw it into the universe, it will float at its own pace, and the right ones will pick it up, and then they will choose to respond or not. But if the large agencies still sit on their high moral ground of not going for open briefings or open pitches, it’s their loss. It's not that the brand will stop working, they will still do business, and they'll still find an agency, it just wouldn't be yours.”

To this, SoCheers’ Devnani also added that in his understanding, there are multiple agencies who irrespective of their size are pitching for the account and therefore he’s happy that things are now opening up for the smaller players as well.

“Also because Uniqlo is a reputed brand, they will be spending for sure and hence, I don't know why any agency will not want to participate in the pitch,” he added.

Commenting on whether he sees this as an experiment or an emerging trend for the long term, The Voice Company's Dasgupta stated that he doesn't think this is an experiment because people only experiment when the intent is there and in this case, the intent is to look for fresh talent, wherever they may be.

“Look at some of the newer brands, almost all of them are partnering up with much younger, (maybe even unheard of) agencies. I mean, why wouldn't they? ” he said.

Having said that, he also mentioned that the only challenge associated with such an approach from an agency standpoint is figuring out which brand is serious about looking for an agency, and which is just doing this for a little LinkedIn limelight.

“I think pitches on social media make it an even playing field because everyone knows about the brand that's looking for an agency now- as opposed to the 90s when barring three people in the country, nobody knew. So it's a good thing and a bad thing both. It's a good thing because now everybody knows and it's a bad thing because now everybody knows,” he opined.

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