Adweek – Two Inspiring Sessions, by Jessica Bee

AdWeek 2015 did not disappoint, jam-packed full of opportunities to see fantastic discussions, debates and talks, it was often a head-ache deciding what not to see. Having had the opportunity to attend six sessions; two really stood out for me. Both resonated because they were immensely frank about two (highly different), often whispered, subjects in the advertising industry.’ Behind The Pitch’ spoke openly about the closely guarded and often maligned pitch process  and ‘The Diversity Delusion’ hit head-on the challenges and successes of where our industry stands today in ensuring we create the best work and nurture the best talent regardless of race, sex or age.
Behind The Pitch:
When you think of the Post Office, you think of tradition. As a child going in with unbridled excitement to collect a parcel, as a teen exchanging your tired English notes for a currency you couldn’t pronounce for your first parent-free holiday, or accompanying your granny to laboriously order a book of second class stamps for the yearly Christmas card onslaught. But whilst our notion of this bastion of British society is extremely precious, The Post Office’s approach to pitching their business and indeed their approach to their business itself is as forward thinking as they come. ‘Behind The Pitch’ sought to demonstrate how their pitch process differs and involved the three key stakeholders – The Post Office’s Head of Marketing Keith Gulliver, the agency, DLKW, led by Jamie Elliott and the business consultant Red Salt’s David Meikle, who, when framing the approach, put brilliantly ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got’.
Most of us have worked on pitches; some exhilarating and fast-paced where your best thinking and work come together in total team alignment, some long and heavy-going where the thought of putting another buzz word into a PowerPoint presentation makes you physically twitch, and you haven’t eaten anything that hasn’t arrived in a bag in several months. The Post Office wanted to centre on setting clear goals and a shared process before the work even begun, in order to get the best results and ultimately appoint the right agency for the job. Despite the length of the process (9 months in total), they put clear milestones in the decision process. Starting with the initial RFI involving 10 agencies, which Keith Gulliver put wonderfully as ‘The Goldilocks Test’, and which called for a simple response to understand whether the agencies’ size and outputs were right for The Post Office. This reduced the candidate list from 8 agencies to 5.  The next stage involved a gruelling interview process of challenging questions (including who was the most influential marketeer of the 21st century…). The final part became a real ‘final’, with a small shortlist who could feel that this last major investment in the pitch was worthwhile. All too often agencies can feel like the goal posts shift, but this ensured everyone was clear from the get-go. Jamie Elliot used a great analogy when he said that pitches can sometimes feel like 3 types of relationships – some a one-off physical transaction, some just a short-winded fling and some, like this one, a serious and long-lasting partnership.
This session really highlighted the need for both a moral and business focused ‘contract’ in pitches – for example, The Post Office and Red Salt recognised that part of the pitch would take place over the summer holidays. Therefore, to respect the human investment made in this process, they deliberately avoided setting key deadline during August, so the agency pitch teams could elect to take a break with their families. This set a level of respect between client and agency from the outset.
Another key differential for this pitch process was the fact that the RFP was a live brief. This meant the agencies had to develop real work that answered a real business problem. The Post Office therefore had a proper stake in the pitch – they had to run with the work they chose and to a real deadline. It meant that instead of agencies throwing everything into the ring and hoping something stuck, there was the opportunity to forge the relationship and the work for both the present campaign and also develop long-lasting ways of working.
The panel was open, honest and did not shy away from difficult themes or questions – whether that was DLKW speaking frankly about the chemistry meeting not going well, Red Salt explaining issues of procurement or The Post Office discussing how they worked with Red Salt to help shape the process. Having taken part in a variety of pitches recently, Behind the Pitch re-established to me that at the end of the day we are all human and so are our clients. By humanising the process, we stand to get better, longer-lasting and respectful relations from both sides of the line.
The Diversity Delusion:
Set in the beautiful St James’s Church, ‘The Diversity Delusion’ was chaired by Lopa Patel MBE with an expert panel made up of Tracey de Groose (UK CEO of Dentsu Aegis), Robin Wight (President of Engine), Shelina Janmohamed (VP of Ogilvy Noor) and Professor Binna Kandola OBE. Speaking candidly, they discussed how diversity is being addressed in the advertising industry and particularly how there needs to be more value attributed to difference.
Tracey de Groose kicked off the discussion speaking about gender and women in advertising, sharing the dire statistic that just 6% of creative teams are women and how this can lead to society, portrayed through the lens of advertising, as being distinctly male-biased. Robin Wight, eminent in his fantastic purple coat, explained that to deliver great creative work, there is a necessity to look to the E-S theory and disseminate that the empathising brain (the inherently female brain) is not just needed here but has a larger part to play than the systemising (and more male) one. From a gender perspective in leadership however, there was good news, 5/10 of the leading media agencies in the UK are now run by women, something that was unimaginable even just ten years ago. Whilst diversity from a gender perspective is most definitely WIP, there has been progress made and leaders like Tracey de Groose attest to this.
Moving the discussion to ethnic diversity, there were some shocking statistics on how little multiplicity we actually have in our industry – just 13% of our colleagues are from ethnic backgrounds. From the audience, a comment regarding the seeming ignorance of agencies to the power of the non-white pound raised the extremely pertinent question of ‘why aren’t more agencies creating mixed-background creative and media teams in order to really communicate to this audience?’ Robin Wight who heads up the charity ‘The Ideas Foundation’, dedicated to increasing diversity in the creative industries, explained that we need to ensure that advertising as a career is communicated to younger kids in more diverse schools, so they know what it is and that they can be a part of it before they become shaped and formed for other, perhaps more, stereotypical career paths. He asserted that pre-apprenticeships for 14 year olds enliven kids to get the creative bug and gain the confidence to pursue a career in our sector. Shelina Janmohamed explained that the classic career paths such as law and accountancy may still merit more highly for Asian parents than creative arts.
The entire panel agreed that for an industry rooted in communication, communication was the issue for diversity. Within our agencies, often these subjects are more whispered than shouted about. Great work that is inclusive and diverse needs to be celebrated to prove what we all know – there is huge value in difference.
For two totally different reasons, these sessions made me really reflect, which is often challenging sitting behind your computer with your set routines and ever-growing to-do lists. AdWeek provides an opportunity for all levels and disciplines to get out from behind it and expand your mind, your network or, most probably, both.