Ad Agencies in Belgium in Virtual Strike

Everything PR News

In news from Europe today, we learn that ad agencies from Belgium are all closing their corporate websites for a whole week, to express their discontent against the way clients conduct pitches in their country. The virtual strike is an initiative of ACC (Association of Communication Companies), it starts on their own site and continues on 23 other websites.

On each participant site the landing page was replaced by a “website closed” message, consisting of one paragraph each of an open letter to clients. The letter explains the reasons behind the strike:

Dear visitor,

As you can see, we have replaced our regular website with this letter. It’s going to stay up one week to express our discontent.

Allow us to explain. In the 1990’s, the UBA and the ACC developed a charter. All the major players signed up to it, and it defined the rules of the game for agency pitches for over a decade.

There’s not much left of that charter now. For example, one of the things it states is that no more than three agencies (plus the incumbent) should ever be invited to pitch on any piece of business. But in recent competitions, we’ve sometimes seen more than 10 agencies throwing their names into the ring.

Why does that matter? Well, pitches, like boxing, work in rounds. You get through one round, and go on to the next. Last man standing wins. Unlike boxing, however, pitches rely on the participants punching themselves in the head.

A big pitch can cost an agency upwards of 80000 €. Just getting into the second round takes huge amounts of energy. And if you’re lucky enough to get that far, you then have to invest even more resources just to have a chance of getting something out of it. And if 10 agencies are taking part, that’s a 90% percent chance that you’re taking a bruising for nothing.

If that were the end of it, who would care? Nobody’s going to lose any sleep if there are a few less advertising agencies in the world but the thing is, it’s not us who’ll suffer: it’s you were worried about.

Pitches use up energy. Energy an agency would normally use to provide its existing, paying customers with the best possible work. So the logical conclusion of the system as it now stands is that at some point you will become a victim of it yourself.

The day will eventually come when your agency has to divert the creative and strategic energy you’re paying it for into a pitch for some else’s business.

Our idea of a sane world is where you do your best work for the clients you do have. Not the ones you don’t. So, we think it’s in everyone’s interests to get back to where we started: the charter.

The charter that was put together by wise men not to protect themselves but to protect their industry. The charter that makes sure a downturn doesn’t turn into the demise of Belgian communications. The charter that ensures advertisers are matched with the agency they need. And that agencies are protected from their instinctive hunger not to miss out on opportunities. Besides, judging an agency isn’t rocket science. Our work is on every street corner, and all over the internet, every day. (Except today, of course.)

Our reputation, our beliefs and our individual visions aren’t exactly trade secrets. And our awards… well, if you haven’t heard about them yet, you soon will.

Talk to an agency and you’ll know right away if they see things the same way you do. But don’t delude yourself. Asking an agency to pitch is not the same as briefing one. In a pitch, the only target audience is you. The only question an agency can ask itself is, “What do we need o do to get the client?” But it’s never too late to change.

We recently confronted a major advertiser with how they were running their pitch. And they changed their speculative competition into a much more motivating and lower cost procedure.

Great idea. Great result. But we didn’t think of it. It was just in the charter. So let’s not all lose hope just yet. Thanks for listening.

View the Competition Charter here.

So what happens next? Obviously, these companies hope that the strike will bring things back to the normal state of affairs, where pitching was a fair game, and it was based on mutual respect and following the rules. JWT, Ogilvy, BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi, and McCann are among the participants.

If you visit any of their sites in Belgium today you will find a fragment of the letter. At the present time the letter was divided in 24 pages, which means that there are 24 agencies involved. Yesterday, when the strike begun, the ACC announced only 20.

The letter is in English, which is rather strange, considering that English is not an official language in Belgium. But all these companies are international players, so the move makes sense.

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