Ad Agencies Strike to Protest Unfair New Business Pitch Process

Agencies spend a lot of time and money on new business pitches, often with terrible odds of winning. And many advertisers, during the downturn in the economy, are asking for more from the pitch process without paying.

Belgian advertising agencies have embarked on a one-week strike in protest against advertisers who have stopped following a charter governing norms that are supposed to govern the industry, reports Advertising Age.

The striking agencies wanted to raise the unfairness of the current pitch process for new business. Their points of contention:

  • Pitches involving 10 or more agencies put them in the impossible position of throwing resources at contracts they only have a 10% chance of winning
  • Each pitch can cost  participating agencies, on average, over $100,000
  • Pitches also use up valuable creative energy that would normally be provided to their own clients
  • The current pitch process can turn the economic downturn into a demise for participating agencies

“Because of the [economic] crisis, advertisers were getting aggressive and not following the rules, and it only works if everyone sticks to the charter,” said Luc De Leersnyder, CEO of the ACC, Belgium’s association of communication companies, which masterminded the strike. “I wrote a letter to members [saying] if you’re called into a pitch and know there are six or seven other guys and that you’ll spend 80,000 euros on the pitch, you have a better chance at a casino.”

Participating striking agencies replaced their regular websites to host a letter of protest for one week. The letter ran across the front page of each of their websites, from one agency to the next.

You can view the letter in the following SlideShare presentation made up of screen shots from the participating agencies Websites created by Ed Lee, managing director at com.motion, an online and social media marketing consultancy,Toronto, ON.

Michael Killeen, managing director of Dialogue Marketing, offers some thoughts to stimulate debate and get all parties around the table to find the ultimate solution we equally desire:

  • Increase face time
  • Discuss fees up front
  • Create a third-party audited list of agency credentials
  • Create audited lists of client satisfaction
  • RIP the RFP questionnaire
  • Find out from other clients
  • Have clients co-present with their agencies
  • Do away with speculative work or pay for it
  • Create trial periods so fees and scope can be accurately determined
  • Is it time to bring in a pitch charge?

Read Michael’s additional thoughts, insights and suggestions, The not so merry-go-round”

Watch the video, “ACC The Virtual Strike”, also read more about the strike in this Ad Age article, “In Virtual Strike, Belgium’s Ad Agencies Close Their Sites”

What are some creative ways to bring agencies and clients together to create a new business process that is a win-win for both? What is your view of the current pitch process? Do you have suggestions on how to make the pitch process better?


About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. I think that many clients do not invest in researching the agencies that they are asking to participate in their RFP. Much information is made available on agency websites, blogs, third-party listings, associations etc. today.

    In my opinion, the clients who get the best agencies are ones that devote significant time talking with the agency in advance of issuing an RFP. They are open and transparent about their business and its needs. In the course of those upfront conversations both parties engage in the manner that they would normally do business and each has an opportunity to determine capabilities and compatibility.

    Following that would be the time to send out the RFP and obtain an informed response with pricing.

  2. Michael – we’ve had quite a discussion about this in the UK. What is certain is that an organised strike of this nature couldn’t have been set up here. The industry is too diverse.
    There was a great comment from Neale Gilhooley about his views on how agencies should service their clients
    Maybe you’d care to add your observations?

  3. Maybe I’m naive, but I just don’t get it. What exactly is the problem here? So you don’t want to participate in an RFP that you only have a 10% chance of winning? Then don’t. Don’t want to spend $100K on a pitch? Then don’t. Last time I checked, Belgium was still a free country.

    I hate RFPs also, and it’s pretty easy to tell when a company is inviting every agency under the sun. But some are very worthwhile, particularly if the numbers are more in your favor and you sense that your particular strengths play well to the client. We participated in just such an RFP recently and won a huge deal against firms five times our size.

    Surely instead of complaining about how clients want to hire us, we should be marketing and selling our services more effectively so the clients want to hire ONLY us. Right?

  4. What a great blog. Glad to see that it is so popular.

  5. What a great blog. Glad to see that it is so popular. I was looking for a good place to read in my free time.

  6. I think it’s time the ad agency business -and ad agencies – learned a few things from the direct marketing space.

    Can you imagine Dan Kennedy, John Carlton or Robert Bly sitting still long enough for someone on the other end of the phone to get the words “speculative new business pitch” out of their mouths?

    Dan Kennedy doesn’t even TAKE phone calls.

    As to the idea of spending $100K of an agency’s own money for a 10% shot at getting the business . . . Those guys get $50K to write a letter. Plus royalties.

    They’re who I wanna be when I grow up.

  7. I agree Mary. Thanks for your insights.

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