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Ms. Jody Sutter

When Client Conflicts Get in the Way of Pitching New Business

In my experience at media agencies, it's extremely hard to pitch clients in the same, similar, and, at times, not-so-similar categories. There's a good reason for it: clients want to make sure that their media agency is pursuing category-relevant opportunities for their benefit and their benefit only.
There are some obvious cases (Coca Cola's agency can't pitch Pepsi without the certain consequence of losing the Coke business), but often the situation is not so cut and dry. Here’s a hypothetical scenario to consider:
Crunchy Cracker Company, with a large cracker, cookie and salty snack portfolio of brands, works with Mega Media Agency. Most of its top-selling brands have a respectable budget for marketing and media, but the company also owns a small saltwater taffy brand that gets almost no marketing dollars spent against it.
Mega Media Agency is presented with an opportunity to pitch Sweetime Brands, a major confectionary company with, you got it, a saltwater taffy brand in its line-up.
Should Mega Media Agency be allowed to pitch Sweetime? Should a saltwater taffy brand with little or no media dollars invested against it jeopardize the important Crunchy Cracker account?
I run into these kinds of issues all the time, to the extent that sometimes I feel like my job is more about saying “no” than saying “yes!” As an industry, we need to explore effective tactics that can be used when clients want to set overly broad restrictions, barring agencies from pursuing legitimate opportunities. What are reasonable limits, and in whose hands lies the responsibility to maintain (or push) those limits?
Perhaps the answer lies in approaching contract negotiation differently (full disclosure: I am not responsible for negotiating the contracts at the agency I work for, but have held that responsibility at other agencies in the past). Are there expectations we can set at the beginning of the negotiation process that will result in a better definition of what a competitor is?
Another solution often put in place is a “conflict brand.” This is a start-up agency within a holding company that is unencumbered by a full roster of existing clients, allowing it to pursue a whole host of business categories. This can be a great solution, but it’s resource intensive, requiring the right investment to build, market and maintain a new agency.
This is obviously the media agency perspective. What is the approach at creative agencies and is it an approach we can learn from?

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Nice Post!

Jody, nice post. Thanks for contributing.

PS This needs to be clearly outlined in the contract negotiations...with lots of flexibility built in for interpretation.
Posted by Mr. Mitchell Caplan (Monday, November 24, 2008 11:20 AM)

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