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Crash and burn…

Well, I made the mournful mistake of watching an episode of AMC’s The Pitch (my first one by the way). Unless I cannot resist another car wreck it will be my last.

The show I caught was cringe inducing and sad. Two Nashville agencies (DBD & Powell) compete for the Gibson account, which, to be fair, ‘sounds’ like a cherry piece of business. That is until you meet its creepy owner, Henry Juszkiewicz. I have a hunch this dude is probably pretty sharp but on the show he comes off as anything but. Donning black shirt and gaudy tie, he reminds me of Mr. Burns (from the Simpsons) trying to be “hip and with it.” I kept waiting for him to release the hounds on either of these two hapless agencies. Which, obviously, would have been AWESOME.

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“Excellent.”

There are a million articles and reviews bemoaning this insipid series, dissecting each squirmy morsel. Here’s a good one. Suffice it to say, there is not one character (from either agency or the client), who comes across as savvy, let alone normal. Even the Gibson receptionist was tripping: “Mr. Juszkiewics has made his decision!” My God, you’d think it was Sophie’s Choice.

That’s the thing. By trying to cram all the machinations of a pitch into a handful of minutes the producers get it all wrong. For our viewing pleasure they cut out the boring process leaving only tantrums and tears. I’m not saying in real pitches there aren’t flare-ups but mostly it’s hard work, writing and rendering. Fascinating for those in the trenches not so much for outsiders.

And so to insure (dubious) entertainment value, AMC drills into these companies to find personal drama: the insecure son of the agency’s founder pleading for a chance to prove himself; the working mother of three, who, in all the late nights, forgets to pick up her kid at school. “I’m a good mother!” she bellows to the camera. Awkwardly, an account executive is introduced as the agency’s “brains and beauty,” a woman who is not afraid to use her looks for “five extra minutes” with a client. She’s a “4.” That shouldn’t matter but hey she brought it up.

Most galling to me was the show’s representation of the creative process, starting with an inane and perfunctory briefing: “Our mission is to get bigger. We want to be a lifestyle brand. You have a week.” Not surprisingly, the resulting campaigns reek of superficiality. Both agencies literally go with their first ideas. Really?

Speaking of the work: In the final presentation we see a couple embarrassing videos and a handful of silly posters. Somebody says “integration” and “consumer behavior” and that’s it.

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What else you got?

Unbelievably, the client then makes everyone sit in the waiting room (never happen) while he ponders his decision. We see all the nervous glances heightened by baneful reality show music. Having thought all of ten minutes, the CEO comes out of his chambers, gives an awful speech, and chooses his agency.

Normally, I’d salute such a bold and decisive process. Two agencies. One client. The quick decision. Yet, it’s complete and utter bullshit. As critical as I am of the lengthy, messy process EVERY pitch is comprised of I’ll be damned if I can swallow this made-for-TV nonsense. In almost every way, The Pitch is disrespectful to what we do. It just is.

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Happy handicapper, Cadillac’s Craig Bierley

I’m not sure why newly appointed Cadillac advertising director, Craig Bierley chose to give an interview to Adweek about Cadillac’s agency review, which has been going on since early this year. According to Adweek, he and his cohorts listened to four presentations last week from the contenders, comprised of agency groups from Interpublic, Omnicom and two teams out of Publicis, including the incumbent Fallon.

But interview he did. Bierley merrily goes on the record stating the agencies delivered “really solid work.” He qualifies the remark by saying “some were better than others.”

Doesn’t that go without saying?

Sounding a bit like a sports DJ, he then offers this morsel: “There’s parts of each team we like better than other parts of each team. Strategy over here might work better with this creative but you don’t get to do that [laughs].”

This definitely should have gone without saying. Or laughing.

In my opinion, the whole interview should not have happened. It’s bad form, plain and simple. First of all, if someone from any of those agencies had spoken to the press about the Cadillac pitch they’d have been doomed. Clients loathe when agencies go on record about anything really but especially pitches. For example, if a copywriter were to Tweet “Just finished our Caddy pitch. Killed it!” he’d have been called to a corner office and reprimanded, likely even fired. We are taught to keep our mouths shut… or else. So, yes, I think it’s crappy when a client does so just because he can.

Writing about the interview on Adpulp, Dan Goldgeier weighed in as follows: “There’s a lot of money, pride, prestige, egos, and jobs at stake. Frankly, I feel for anyone laboring in the lower ranks of agencies involved in this pitch.”

Honestly, I feel sorry for the senior pitch teams as well. If I’d put months of time into this pitch I would feel awful reading such an article. Pitch teams go through the wringer getting ready for their presentations. Dozens of brutal meetings. Even more late nights. Enduring withering criticism from your peers and senior management from New York. Making countless changes (some of it against your will). Mortgaging your family life (again). And practicing…all that soul-crushing practice.

Then to go online and see the man you’ve worked months to impress, the penultimate decision maker, glibly calling it all “iterative,” saying the winner “could be Fallon. It could be IPG.” If I’m not part of one of those agencies what am I to think? Or even if I was? Either way, I don’t like being talked about like a racehorse.

In fairness to Bierley, he discusses the painstaking measures his team took to insure the process was “fair” and “transparent.” That may be so but he should have declined giving such an interview until after a verdict was given, if at all. There’s a reason jurors (let alone the Jury Foreman) don’t talk about trials until after they’re done. While a trial isn’t the same as a pitch (necessarily) accounting for human decency is.


Don could sell venereal disease to a third world country.

Next to gazing at Joan the thing I like most about Mad Men are the speeches, especially those given by Don Draper, and in particular when he’s in pitch mode. Observing Don orate in front of an expectant, hushed crowd, whether it’s Jaguar or some Podunk regional airline, is for me the zenith of this acclaimed show.

There, I wistfully think to myself, but for the Gods of Advertising go I. As a copywriter and creative director, I’ve long cherished the presentation spotlight and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Having a great idea and being its primary advocate is nothing short of a blessing. The trust. The power. The stakes. The so-damn-possible you-can-almost-taste-it glory. How can anyone resist? (Well, as it turns out many of you can. Public speaking ranks among the most feared of all human activities. Good. More opportunities for guys like me!)


We can be heroes!

Arguing for my agency and ideas is the closest I’ll ever come to a Braveheart moment. Think about it, for all the bloody mayhem in that awesome film, the only thing we really remember is Mel Gibson’s rousing speech to his troops. The same can be said for George C Scott as Patton. Or Jack: “You can’t handle the truth!” Well, hell, I want to stand for something. And I want to stand and deliver it. And so it is -kind of sort of- when I make a creative presentation. Emphasis on kind of sort of…

But still!

The adrenalin pumps. Time stops. Everything else fades from importance. In that moment, I am Atticus Finch, General Patton, Braveheart; or more likely, a poor man’s Don Draper, which, by the way, I will take any day of the week. Freedom!

Writer’s note: It is ironic AMC’s other advertising show (about this very topic: The Pitch!) has not shown us a single magnificent presentation. Frankly, far from it.

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