Here's to Hoping 'The Pitch' Strikes Out

Why the AMC Reality Show Falls Flat

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According to a 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 and alienating your 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 my colleagues and I have learned, 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 .

Jim Lansbury is principal, creative director at RP3 Agency.
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