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New code of conduct to set boundaries.

Dubai The UAE Chapter of the International Advertising Association has had enough. It believes the time has come to make changes in the clients' practice of calling in agency pitches as a matter of routine. Such a practice is being held up by agencies as outdated and in immediate need of correction.

But rather than take a confrontational approach vis-Ea-vis clients, the IAA has decided to engage in a free-wheeling dialogue with clients to arrive at a common solution. The process started with a panel discussion last evening -- featuring agency and client representatives -- and will be repeated. There will be a further two forums where the same theme -- "Better pitches, better relationships" will be revisited.

At the end of the process, the IAA believes they will be able to put together a voluntary code of practices that will take on board suggestions from both agencies and clients to improve the situation.

So what's wrong with clients calling on agencies to put up pitches as part of a time-honoured vetting process? "The pitching relationship at this point in time is out of balance, it's broken and needs fixing," said Kamal Dimachkie, executive regional managing director at Leo Burnett UAE, Kuwait and the Lower Gulf.

"We feel that if this situation of chronic pitching continues unchecked and undefined, you are wasting economic value. Right now, you have agency and client resources focused on trying to qualify the next relationship.

"Every time you have a protected pitching process, you are placing value generation on hold or holding it back. But if a client and an agency collaborate to come up with the best ideas and for the client's brands, then this in principle becomes a relationship between equals."

Conversation

Strong words, but the advertising industry had been raising this issue for the better part of three years now. Most of these discussions took place at the internal level or in a one-on-one with key clients.

This is why yesterday's panel discussion assumes further significance. It represents the first concerted effort by the IAA to push the issue on to a wider platform and engage directly with client representatives.

"I think this is the very first time there's a public conversation going on and that's good," said Dimachkie, who was one of the panelists. "In the past there have been attempts to implement some rules, but these were not adhered to and the whole process collapsed.

"Unless we don't have this conversation it will continue heading in a direction where the bulk of the pressure and the onus is being loaded on the agency's side and not shared. That is dangerous.

"Now, let's put everything in the open; let's moderate the dialogue through a neutral body and try to capture what emerges and place it in a voluntary code of best practices."

But what has been the default setting in the industry is not about to change overnight. Industry stakeholders are well aware of it.

Popular method

"Pitching is a popular method that advertisers use for selecting agencies -- it is not likely to disappear anytime soon," said Dr Lance de Masi, president of the IAA, UAE Chapter.

"There will always be lingering areas of disagreement and refusal to alter undesirable and senseless behaviour. But by the time the series is over, we will have done justice to the topic and for the first time in the history of the industry in this region, drafted a code of conduct to guide practice."

"The hope is that when we are finished there will be fewer versions of the truth and that we will have created for advertisers and agencies conditions for making more effective choices."

That, by any measure, would be a good start.

Dubai Now that the IAA has started the process towards framing a code of conduct, when can the marketplace expect to see the finished product?

"The expectation is that in the next four to six weeks, this process of conducting the panel discussions will have concluded," said Kamal Dimachkie of Leo Burnett. "The shared information will then be collated and a code of best practices will be written and announced.

"By the middle of the year, we should have that. We could even try to have it earlier."

But the question does come up whether the ad industry couldn't have been better off by initiating the process some time in 2009 or 2010 when there was a fully-fledged crisis on?

Dimachkie counters that by saying: "I would argue that we should have started in 2008 when the market was at its peak and all manner of new companies were being formed and everyone was calling for a pitch. It's never late to have this conversation."

"What we need to hear is the client's perspective on the qualification process. Is it because it's statutory to do, particularly among public enterprises and government owned businesses?

"Or is it being done because of creative considerations? But that is rarely the case in this region.

"Or could it be because of service issues? Then a pitch is totally useless because no agency can demonstrate in an hour that it can properly serve the client's needs."

Options

Rather than call for pitches at the first opportunity, clients could do well to weigh up these reasons, according to Dimachkie:

Do your homework thoroughly: Think through why you wish to conduct a pitch. Then structure the process and the briefing that enable you get there.

Avoid waste: While people's time is money everywhere, this cannot be more true than in an idea-based business. Avoid wasting people's time -- theirs and yours. Do not underestimate the power and virtue of using credentials' submission to tell you about an agency's capabilities, without the need to dragging them through speculative exercises.

Be transparent: Often, agencies have to walk in blind without critical information and facts being available.

Share the risk: Pitches tend to always place the risk squarely on the shoulders of agencies. No partnership can be built this way.

Pay: Pitches are very expensive exercises. It is wrong and wasteful to expect agencies to do all the work that is being asked for free. Assigning a premium to the exercise is bound to reduce the waste.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Feb 16, 2012
Words:1050
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