An adworld favourite made its way to the bandstand WhatsApp the other day. An oldie but a goodie: Zulu Alpha Kilo’s video of a would-be client asking a personal trainer, architect and chef whether they would provide training, designs and breakfast for free. Their responses are variants on the chef’s request: move your ass out of my kitchen.

We pitch a lot. And there’s so much we love about it: a new opportunity! The thrill of the competition! Big new ideas! Brainstorms! War rooms! We can even fall for the romance of late-nighters in the studio: the Deliveroos and Diet Cokes, the all-hands-on-deck camaraderie, the ten, nine, eight hours to go.

But we’ve been through a pandemic now. We’ve had the chance to take stock and re-evaluate best working practices, and constant pressure should not be romanticised; constant pressure with no reward even less so. Few things will deplete team morale more effectively. It’s no coincidence the IPA and ISBA are announcing their plan to improve the pitching process during Mental Health Awareness Week.

And it’s not just stress. There’s the issue of respect. Most agencies will pour huge amounts of time and money into pitches, learning about this new client, trying and testing out new ideas, making sure every last typo’s weeded out. A no thanks and no explanation can feel like a slap in the face.

Not to mention the issue of IP. While ideas are increasingly hard to steal, it’s always a risk. The famous example is Brewdog’s ex-agency who claimed they coined the ubiquitous “Punk AF” campaign for which they were neither credited nor paid. No-one wants to be those guys.

So what are we gonna do about it?

At bandstand, we’ve become more considered in the pitches we go for, based on a few criteria: chemistry, shared values, potential for long-term relationships. Is there mutual respect? Are we being chosen for our specific skills or simply as part of a beauty parade?

We also want pitching to be a collaborative process. We’re shifting away from the days of Don and Peggy making the big reveal to wowed execs. Now, it’s as much about back-and-forth development between client and studio. As one client said of this creative process, it’s the most fun they’ve had on a Friday afternoon.

A recent pitch reaffirmed our faith in the process. We were invited to a chemistry session to create paid work, as were two other agencies. We felt respected, motivated and as a result, delivered exciting creative. We won the pitch, the client got output and the other two agencies were reimbursed for their work. No-one was treated as a service provider. Everyone was a winner.

Going forward, we won’t be spurning pitches altogether, but we will aim for something like the above model or at least ensure the brief matches our values as an agency.

Like the chef, we want to be in the kitchen. We love it in here, with the steam and the mess and the sloppy, awful, fantastic experiments. But no-one gets a three-course dinner for free.