Why don’t clients use the ideas that win pitches for their business?

I started looking back on pitches we’ve made over the years.  It’s amazing how they’ve evolved.  In my first pitches we used 35mm slides and a projector!  Not surprisingly these were pretty simple presentations.  One thing that hasn’t changed since those early pitches is how rarely the ideas in those pitches actually get used.  When you think about it, it’s quite amazing.  Agencies spend hours and hours brainstorming ideas for pitches, knowing full well these ideas have a 1% chance of being used.  Why aren’t they used?  Well there are good reasons:

1.  When you are pitching you don’t know the full situation – for example you may have some ideas on how to launch a company or product.  When you get appointed you often find out that, say, the product doesn’t quite work the way they implied in the brief.

2.  The resources to actually do the pitch ideas don’t really exist.  Oh yes, the budget just got ‘trimmed.’

3.  The clients have other more immediate priorities. ‘Launch that product?  We need to solve this crisis before we do anything.’

These are all good reasons but they still shouldn’t result in so few ideas actually being  used.  I think instead what this shows is that clients don’t for a minute believe they will use the ideas that come in pitches.  Instead they want to ‘see how we think.’  This is where things also get messy.  When agencies pitch they often use more than the proposed account teams in their brainstorms.  In other words what clients sometimes see is thinking that came from people not in the room.  Worse than that, they sometimes get thinking from people in the room that won’t actually be working on the business.  This creates the illusion that they are getting the right thinking, without them actually getting the right thinking.  It’s a tough problem to solve but as I said earlier in the week, I think the pitch process has been broken for a long time.

Perhaps PR Week could have an award for the best idea that was in actually in a pitch AND got used.  And maybe one for the best  idea that didn’t get used…

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