AMC’s “The Pitch” Falls Flat.

As seen in Ad Age

According to recent Ad Age article, the success of “Mad Men” on AMC has inspired the network to make its first foray into reality TV with advertising competition show “The Pitch.” But the show, announced in April, has yet to sign a contract with a participating agency. In fact, they’ve been turned down by dozens of New York’s biggest agencies.

Thank goodness. Perhaps after complaining for all these years about spec creative pitches, the industry has come to its senses. Because all the downfalls of a normal pitch – from concerns about ownership of ideas, to alienating your current clients, to not having time to develop your best work – will be magnified a thousand times by the glare of the cameras.

And what about the clients who participate? They may get a brief PR boost, but will they get an idea that actually builds their brand long-term? Will their business challenge remain front and center, or will it be all about egos run amok?

I’ve seen this situation before, although on a smaller scale. My first agency was part of the infamous Subaru pitch chronicled in Randall Rothenberg’s 1994 book “Where the Suckers Moon.” Granted, I was just a junior copywriter at the time, so my involvement was limited. But having a reporter in the room definitely changed the way the agency approached everything… “Let’s not show one campaign, let’s show six! We need a stunt, a big stunt! Get me Michael J. Fox, stat!”

If one reporter scribbling quietly on a notepad in the corner can do that to an otherwise levelheaded agency, just imagine the damage an entire film crew could do.

Then there’s the permanence of it all. If you lose a normal pitch, you learn from your mistakes, lick your wounds and quietly move on. If you lose this pitch, you’ll never live it down. When we didn’t win that Subaru pitch, we were disappointed. When the book came out a year later and the agency was described as “contrived, unoriginal and undone by glitz and too many props,” we were, well, let’s just say embarrassed.

As a small agency owner, an opportunity like this is certainly tempting. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned at RP3 Agency, it’s to follow our instincts when it comes to pitching. If the circumstances don’t allow us to roll up our sleeves and uncover the insights, ideas and interactions necessary to build a successful brand (we call them Magnet Brands), then we pass.

Reality TV may give everyone their 15 minutes of fame. But we want our agency, and the brands we build, to be around a lot longer than that.

View Comments 5
  • This is sparking quite a debate on Ad Age and elsewhere, certainly among the agency folks. I’m curious to hear from any marketers out there on their perspective…?

  • I was skeptical at first, but as a participant in this show I can tell you that it was a wonderful experience and well worth it. This show is an honest take on our industry and I’m glad we participated.

  • While I think speculative pitches completely suck – I enjoyed watching The Pitch. I saw every episode. It was a morbid craving to see that, yes indeed, others suffer the same way we do. The show exposes the wrongheadedness of asking companies to embarrass themselves with furious attempts to solve marketing problems on the fly – and that’s good. Aside from several obviously scripted “reality show” pushes to bring out nastiness, the stuff was true to life: The frustration of being nowhere with 3 days left, of seeing frowns when you present ideas you realize in retrospect are awful, of hearing incessant boasting, of seeing the clients’ false smiles, and of course, that telephone call about how close you were … I also related to the mixed feelings when you won: “oh crap– how will we fit this new client into our stressed-out 10-hour days?” I would never want my agency to participate. But watching others agonize while you relax and sip wine on a Sunday night was … heh heh, great fun.

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Jim Lansbury is Founder, Chief Creative Officer at RP3 Agency. He likes to think and write about ideas that harness new technology to forge deeper connections between brands and consumers.

Jeb Emami is a Marketing Strategist at RP3 Agency with an affinity for building commercial relationships that help organizations realize and capitalize on their product and service differentiators.

The Building Opportunity blog showcases RP3 Agency's ongoing exploration of new ideas, new technologies, and new experiences that propel businesses forward. Don't miss it.