Ad agencies seek limit on pitches

The UAE's advertising industry is calling for the adoption of a code of conduct to prevent clients from seeking pitches from too many competing agencies.

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Such codes have become increasingly common in more developed markets from South Africa to Europe. Last month, Belgium's advertising agencies launched a virtual strike, replacing their web sites with an open letter to clients in an attempt to get them to sign on to a rule limiting the number of agencies being asked to pitch, or make detailed proposals, for each job.

The call to bring such a code to the Middle East emerged during a debate on the opening day of the Dubai International Advertising Festival and the Dubai Lynx Awards. "It's perhaps time for the industry to dig its heels in and take a stance," said Ashish Banerjee, the vice president of brand at du. "But only as long as everybody who is part of the industry is prepared to go along with it, because the moment one agency breaks the ranks the whole thing will fall apart, as it has several times before."

He said the current culture of clients asking many agencies to pitch, sometimes as many as 15, has emerged because "the industry has allowed this to happen". "It's really up to the principals of the industry to figure out if there is a reasonable place to go with this, if there is a code of conduct that is robust enough that everybody would respect it," he said. Dr Lance de Masi, the president of the UAE chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA), expressed support for such a code, adding that it had not been a part of previous attempts at regulation that Mr Banerjee was referring to.

"The IAA does support the idea that there needs to be guidelines in terms of pitches and pitch conducting," he said. "We have done some work on that, but we need to do more work on that." Malek Ghorayeb, the creative director at Leo Burnett Dubai, said his agency pitched 18 times last year. "That's two to three times per month," he said. "Imagine the amount of work." If more clients in the Middle East adopted policies of paying agencies for pitches, similar to those used in the field of architecture, the problem would be greatly reduced, he noted. Clients would be less tempted to tap so many agencies for each pitch and agencies would lose less time and money chasing after long shots.

No clients in the Middle East pay for pitches now, he said. Part of the problem comes from the transient culture of the UAE, where most of the big agencies and regional companies have their headquarters, several industry leaders said. Marketing executives who plan to be in the emirate for only two years are under pressure to make their mark on their company's advertising strategy and one of the easiest ways to do that is to call for a review of the strategy through a call for pitches.

"It's a money-driven thing," Mr Ghorayeb said. "By changing agencies, they can make new deals and lower their fees. If you don't want to take it at 10, I can't go to this guy and he will take it at eight. It's no longer about creativity and creative product, it's how much you are able to go down on your fees."