Why do we like beauty parades so much? They are a hand-me-down from
the advertising industry and they are now endemic in PR consultancy. But
they don’t work. Worse, they waste a vault-full of money that could be
put to much better use.
Competitive creative pitches don’t tell PR clients what they really want
Advertising agencies sell a creative product, and it’s easy to tell
whether you like it or not. The people on the agency team are less
Ideas are everything. Therefore, formal presentations are an acceptable
method of choosing a new advertising agency.
PR consultancies sell a service. The ideas tabled at a presentation are
far less important than the people on the team. What a client wants to
know is: are these people inspiring? Do I want to see them in my office
every other day for a year? Will their team work well with my team? Can
I rely on them?
Creative presentations against the usual bare bones brief cannot
possibly answer these questions. Instead, they answer a different
question: can these people present well? In today’s PR market the answer
must be yes, so the client is left with only one option - judging the
quality of the performance.
The time set aside for interaction is usually negligible. Clients end up
choosing a consultancy on criteria which may or may not work, and hope
the relationship will flourish. Many do not - which is why aggressive
consultancies always re-visit a failed pitch a month or so later.
If we as an industry look at our most successful client relationships we
find that they are based on creative interaction: their teams and our
teams are more or less integrated to produce original, effective PR
A beauty parade gives neither client nor consultancy much idea if this
is likely to happen.
There must be a better way. Instead of performing in front of a mute
client panel, why don’t we offer to give them an insight into what
working with us would actually be like? Let’s invite the client’s team
to spend half a day with our team on a structured brainstorm,
think-tank, strategy session or creative review - call it what you
Our investment as consultancies would be to find out all about the
client, the market and the main issues, and then to run the session just
as we do with clients who have already appointed us. Their investment
would be their time.
No more wasted money on dazzling visuals and theatricals. Instead, the
client sees what we are really like to work with. Their choice can be
made on the basis of a very clear idea of compatibility. Likewise, we
would soon know if we are going to produce great work with this client,
or if we are doomed to frustration.
Presentations are confrontational. Let’s lower the barriers and put us
both on the same side. Some clients are halfway there already - but most
are just as trapped as we are in a system which costs a fortune and
fails to deliver. Let’s offer them an alternative. Let’s demonstrate our
intelligence, our grasp of the issues, our willingness to listen, and
our ability to make a constructive contribution. And let’s spend the
money we save on training.