TBWA's Nancy Reyes and Rob Schwartz on the unexpected pluses of pitching from home
Kids screaming, dogs barking is the standard backdrop for every remote pitch for agencies these days. New business pitching was stressful enough without the many different variables and background noises affecting the process, but executives are making it work—surprisingly well, say TBWA\Chiat\Day New York President Nancy Reyes and CEO Rob Schwartz.
In fact, there may even be some beneficial lasting changes to the way in which the pitch process is conducted that will come out of this "new normal," Schwartz and Reyes say in an interview with Ad Age.
Schwartz and Reyes spoke from their respective remote locations in New York and New Jersey. The two are involved in several new business pitches, some which launched prior to the coronavirus pandemic and others in the midst of it. The following is an interview lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
I know you can't talk about specific pitches but maybe you can give us a hint as to what you’re pitching?
Reyes: I’ll tell you a little bit about the pitches and how they’re going but will probably stop short of a hint.
The good news is there have been pitches. It did take some adjustment to work on a [remote] pitch but I’ve been encouraged by how quickly people have grown accustomed to it. We used to stay up forever in a room, ordering pizza. We’re still doing that, just on WebEx with our loved ones around us.
In one recent pitch [launched pre-COVID-19 isolation], we were one of the last agencies to present, so one of the only agencies [participating] to present via WebEx. Part of the [marketer’s] criteria [in the pitch] was [the agency’s] chemistry. We thought that’s going to be interesting to evaluate chemistry through WebEx. We asked the client about it and their answer was pretty great: "In some ways, there is more human chemistry in this. We get to know each other in a more human way. How does someone react to a kid [in the background] jumping up and down asking for water? Does it throw anybody off? Or does everyone accept it and appreciate each other more?" Maybe the WebEx will give us an advantage. We don’t know yet.
When you first heard you’d be one of the only agencies pitching remotely, what was your reaction? Was that concerning?
Reyes: We were genuinely intrigued. It was kind of cool. I’m not sure we had a moment where we thought, "Oh crap everybody has a leg up on us." We thought, "How do we use it to our advantage?" We were intrigued more than worried.
How is coronavirus making its way into briefs?
Reyes: It’s such an unusual circumstance because it’s not really in pitch briefs but we can’t ignore it when we’re responding. It absolutely has changed our responses.
Schwartz: When you look at the broader picture, we’re looking at three phases of the crisis: the response that’s happening now, recovery in that this is going to pass, and then the full-on revival. So we’re looking at the opportunities with those three phases in mind. What’s interesting is what’s beyond the response. Ways that brands are thinking of moving forward beyond advertising might be in design, social presence. Is the CEO doing a good job on social media?
So, from what I’ve been hearing, brands are beyond the response phase and are now looking at how to come back, so the recovery phase. Do you feel that’s true of your clients?
Reyes: I do think that’s where we are. There are a couple of clients still trying to figure out if they have a responsibility to say something during this time. The world doesn’t need everyone to say something and clients are attuned to that. There is a major focus on revival right now. There’s optimism of "we will come back. People will come back. Where do we stand when we come back?" There are good intellectual conversations happening right now. What will technology mean to people in a post-COVID-19 world? How does socialization work in a post-COVID-19 world?
Schwartz: We, at TBWA, we built that framework: respond, recovery, revival. So that’s how we’re approaching every conversation.
How has the pandemic, and the way in which you’ve been pitching, affected the process?
Reyes: I would say pitching has been tweaked a little bit. There seems to generally be more understanding on both sides. Agencies and clients are working with stressed resources. How do we respect each other even more now? What was once a long and arduous process, we’re finding doesn’t have to be that way. I’m liking what I’m seeing honestly. Mainly the trend is how to get to decisions more quickly. If that can stay post-COVID-19, that would be fantastic.
Any other changes you’ve seen in the pitch process during this time you hope will stick?
Reyes: Maybe the briefs will be better. Briefs feel juicier or more intellectual. There is more of an ask to offer up a new perspective on a brand. There’s more focus on how we think of brands post this thing. Another thing is there’s more flexibility. Meeting times used to be when they needed to be. Lines are blurring a bit. There’s more openness to where each other is at. The process doesn’t feel so rigid. It feels kinder, and more around partnership than price.
Schwartz: We’re going to see a huge back-to-basics approach. Brands are asking "What’s our purpose?" and realizing, "Oh yeah, our purpose is to sell burgers or cars." There will be a lot less navel-gazing. We’ve gone back to really helping brands delight people with the things they make.
Did we see similar trends during past crises?
Schwartz: In terms of revival, I remember very distinctly coming out of 9/11, there was an opportunity creatively to go back to [being] our best selves. Coming out of 9/11, there was a real sense of confidence and enthusiasm from brands. Coming out of the 2008-2009 recession, there was a little more reluctance. Brands were not as enthusiastic. I think this will be more like [the revival period] of 9/11 with brands going out with a lot of enthusiasm.
For the pitches you said that were launched during the pandemic, are you seeing them led more by consultants or internally? Or has that not changed?
Reyes: We’ve always been involved in a mix of internally- and consultant-led pitches and that hasn’t changed. That’s not unusual for us. We can’t see widely whether anything has changed.
Do you have any funny stories from pitching remotely? What's the weirdest thing you have experienced on a remote pitch?
Reyes: I wish I had something totally salacious to tell you. It’s now so normal to pitch with your children at the table. The hardest thing, in my opinion, has just been substituting the physical presence. It’s not that we can’t do good work without it, but there’s just a certain amount of inspiration and joy that’s provided in a physical space. I wish I was sitting next to Rob right now. It aches a little bit. We’ve had agency meetings and group pitch meetings and you see all these little squares, and it’s great seeing all these badass people doing this right now. I just wish we were doing it together.