The way of the gimmick

In the competitive cut-throat ad business, one five-letter word wields enough power to send champagne corks flying or create a mood as sombre as a funeral wake: the word is PITCH....

In the competitive cut-throat ad business, one five-letter word wields enough power to send champagne corks flying or create a mood as sombre as a funeral wake: the word is PITCH.

Every agency knows a new-business pitch has the ability to make or break a shop. Agencies are also well aware that the style of pitch – from the tiniest of details to that which ultimately seals the deal – is tantamount to creating an impression on both clients and competition that may outlive the agency itself.

However, there’s another word that many Canadian agency execs will agree has developed a connotation so heinous, no one in the industry wants to dare be associated with it – or so many ad execs say. That word is GIMMICK. According to industry pundits, the trend towards producing pitches with gimmicks, the ones where presentations often involve an agency or client’s office virtually morphing into a miniature Las Vegas act, has become pretty much passé.

Strategy recently talked to a few people at Canadian agencies to hear their thoughts on the way of the pitch vis à vis gimmickery. Here’s what they had to say.

Chris Staples, Rethink, Vancouver:

The ideal is that you don’t have to do stunts to get the account. If you get people phoning you, why would you spend all that time and effort doing goofy things? And the agencies that do the funniest pitches are usually the agencies that do the worst work. So the bigger the gimmick the worse the work. That would be my advice: Focus on the work and your new business will take care of itself. Focus on the gimmicks and you’ll just get a reputation as being a gimmicky agency… I’m a recovering gimmicky creative director who has seen the light!

Andy Macaulay, Zig, Toronto:

What shouldn’t you do? Gimmicky is sending a sledgehammer with your name carved in the side of it. It’s not relevant to the client’s needs. There are lots of agencies that still try to trot out the glitz and glam and the schtick in the early phases of the process to try to demonstrate their creativity…We absolutely eschew that. Getting new business can be a feeding frenzy, but I think there is a new maturity in this business.

Marc Stoiber, Grey Worldwide, Toronto:

I’m not a big fan of gimmicks, but I am a fan of rolling up your sleeves and getting down to the nitty gritty…I’m a big fan of starting with a huge idea, an idea so grand that everything can come out of it, and then showing [the prospective client] how it works on a cashier’s button. I think that’s the most important part of the business.

Stuart Ince, i2i Advertising & Marketing, Vancouver:

Gimmicks? They probably went out with the three-hour martini lunches. Clients aren’t looking for that anymore…They want to know that the agency has really thought through the business and that they can produce results for them. They want to know that you’re in tune with their business. If these things are done in a very targeted way they can work. But if they’re just a gimmick for gimmick’s sake, then they’re probably not a good idea.

Jay Bertram, Cossette Communication-Marketing, Toronto:

A pitch is a process… You can’t see it as [just] a day. It’s critically important, but it’s part of many steps to building the confidence in the client that you’re the right partner to establish a relationship with. I honestly believe it’s very arrogant for agencies to pitch creative without knowing the client and what’s required…We’ve never done anything that doesn’t have a purpose behind it. For agencies that don’t have their own culture or style, when it comes to pitching new business, they might turn to gimmickery to make them different.