Monday, May 7, 2012

The Pitch, Bitch.

I missed the Mad Men train about 4 years ago and have no intention of renting the DVD set to catch up. When my colleagues start their eventual recap of last night's episode, I'll simply grin and nod and turn my inner attention to the next campaign I'm supposed to be writing.

But when AMC introduced us to The Pitch I knew I couldn't make the same mistake twice.

This is train wreck television at its worst. Meaning at its finest.

Contrived scenarios. Sound byte dialogue. And punch-worthy villains, like last week's Ray Johnson, who are literally part of my inner career circle. That's right I named names. I'm living on the edge.

What's most interesting about The Pitch and its semi-documentary portrayal of the advertising new business process is how little it actually resembles reality. Particularly in my case.

You see, I had the unique fortune to spend the majority of my agency life at TBWA Chiat/Day under the leadership of Lee Clow. I had the even greater fortune to work on several "pitches" with him. And in many ways these experiences -- like the show -- also bore very little any resemblance to way things are in advertising.

Lee is that iconic.

He's the industry star who is actually known outside our industry. I remember chatting with him at an airline terminal on our way to do a meet and greet and seeing passengers lugging their suitcases, pointing at Lee and murmuring as if they had seen a celebrity. And in truth, they had. Lee has crossed over into mainstream. He's the Jenna Jamison of advertising.

As you can imagine, that kind of star power can change the dynamics of a new business pitch. Not only does he look like Moses, he brings the same presence and conviction. So persuasive are Lee's powers I suspect that had he visited the Pharaoh and proclaimed "let my people go", the Egyptians would have saved themselves the nuisance of 10 pesky plagues.

I don't know what the rest of The Pitch season has in store for us, but I do know you will not see anyone in Lee's league.

Walking into a Pitch with Lee made all our jobs easier. It was like being Earle Combes, the Yankees center fielder who batted in front of Babe Ruth and came away with a .356 lifetime average.

And it explains why, unlike the uncomfortable participants in the TV show, I never felt nervous during the actual pitch. Ever. There was very little stammering. Or stumbling. Or painful silent pauses when a powerpoint or DVD player wouldn't cooperate. And that's because Chief Marketing Officers and CEO's were always thrilled to have Lee in the room, telling them what they could and should be doing to improve their business.

Did we win everything we pitched? Of course not. And some of those, like the Wall Street Journal and Lowe's, still sting. But to this day I'll never understand why clients weren't lining up outside our door to work with the architect and the ad agency responsible for so many incredible campaigns including the resurgence of Apple Computer, the most successful company on the planet.

So yes, there were times when potential clients didn't pick us.
And we weren't the winner.
But we weren't the loser either.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

How can you say The Pitch is train wreck viewing when they have agencies like Kovel Fuller and...oh, wait a minute...never mind.