Why “The Pitch” Will Perpetuate Bad Practices

Perhaps you have seen the preview episode of The Pitch, AMC’s newest show about the advertising industry, which debuts on April 30. In this first episode WDCW competes against McKinney Advertising for a Subway breakfast ad campaign. While dramatic and entertaining, the episode also perpetuates several bad practices that plague the entire marketing sector.

This “reality” TV approach focuses on the tension of competitive pitching for major accounts. It assumes that winning depends on the creative that resonates most with the decision committee. In this case a Mac Lethal video-inspired campaign from McKinney out duels WDCW’s zAMbie campaign for Subway’s breakfast line.

But nowhere in the episode do we see serious conversations about the following:

  • The target stakeholder, adults aged 18-24
  • Sales information from Subway about its breakfast line performance to date
  • Intended ROI goals for the campaign
  • Breakfast offerings, sales and ad campaigns from competitors
  • Potential media suggested by the agencies to promote the campaign
  • Integration into other marketing programs, including direct, social media, and others

These critical components drive all real world pitches, and also inform creative. The only strong verbal reference to them was Mac Lethal’s live rap pitch to the Subway team when he said McKinney is “increasing your sales.” It’s no coincidence that McKinney won, in my book. At least the show offered general discussion of Subway’s overarching branding efforts.

A Bad Pitch?

The incorrect message The Pitch sends to Americans — and more importantly aspiring marketers and communicators — is that creative ideas are all it takes to succeed in this business. Having competed for a few accounts in my day, winning requires a much stronger approach than just creative.

While the show accurately depicts the tension of coming up with good ideas, it completely failed to bring the business end of the conversation into play. Further, it failed to discuss the motives of why clients buy marketing campaigns. The psychology of winning extends well beyond good ideas and into resolving fears, economies of scale, ROI, and yes, even good old fashioned relationships.

I don’t think these errors are the fault of the featured agencies, rather the “reality” approach to creating an interesting TV show. You could see some demographic information posted on the walls during creative brain storm sessions, as well as references to tactics outside of the traditional 30 second spot. These agencies are well respected for a reason.

The barriers to entry in advertising, PR and social media are very low, creating plenty of issues, from ethics to bad practices, and an unfortunate belief that myths like “great creative is all it takes” are true. The resulting quality issues are why this sector suffers from reputation issues, and more.

Success requires significant attention to the mechanics of marketing. As Olivier likes to say, a Moneyball approach should be deployed. The math and research should inform the creative, and then support it with a selection of tactics that flow well together. Further a good pitch includes a measurement program that won’t bullshit the CMO, offering him/her real data to make decisions to invest further, adapt, or cut losses.

One other nitpick with The Pitch. WDCW’s Tracy Wong was the only minority person featured in the show. During the winning McKinney Advertising celebration scene we were treated to scores of white people cheering. Where are the minorities? Is this show saying that advertising, marketing and PR is the last professional bastion of white solidarity? Even its 1960s counterpart Mad Men is doing a better job of tackling racism.

While entertaining, I hope The Pitch improves with future episodes. For all of our sakes. What do you think of The Pitch?