Dry Time for Pitch Men as Creative Reviews Slow | Adweek Dry Time for Pitch Men as Creative Reviews Slow | Adweek
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The Terrifying Slowdown for New Creative Business

First quarter unusually sluggish

Ken Robinson

The quiet is deafening. Where are the creative new-business opportunities out there?

While media reviews continue apace, significant creative-only reviews have been relatively scarce this year in what agency leaders and search consultants call an unusually slow period. Also, the size of the creative prizes, with a few exceptions, has been smaller.

Marketing spending is one of the first to be cut in a downturn, and in the U.S., it’s a battle for share and taking business away from competitors. That explains the large amount of review activity around media buying, a huge line item in marketers’ budgets that’s subject to the increasing clout of procurement and constant digital change.

It’s a different story for creative reviews, however, where the first quarter is traditionally busy, given that marketers have new budgets approved and typically want to have an agency in place before the summer kicks in. If an advertiser is reliant on holiday sales and it was a bad fourth quarter, it’s often time to pass the buck.

“If it’s a calendar-year client, you’re now in the second quarter, so you’ll want to have an agency by the end of the summer and have the fall to work on a campaign that will debut in January,” said one search consultant.

Since January, four media reviews representing more than $1.6 billion in spending have begun (Danone, Nationwide, Walgreens and Bacardi). Media also is part of three other creative and media reviews launched in the same time period (H.H. Gregg, Staples and Sony PlayStation), and collectively those marketers spend about $250 million annually. In contrast, spending behind the handful of creative-only searches that began in the past four months totaled $940 million, and when you back out JCPenney, that total drops to $500 million.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive explanation for the scarcity of creative-only reviews, but David Beals, president of the R3:JLB consultancy in Chicago, offered that the long downward economic stretch has forced marketers to look at their agency relationships. “My suspicion is that a lot of marketers have already taken a hard analysis of that, and we’re in a lull,” he said.

Other consultants find themselves doing more relationship management work. “We can often help work through pain points in order to retain and strengthen their existing agency relationships,” said Ken Robinson of Ark Advisors in New York. “We’re not just matchmakers. We’re also marriage counselors.”

The good news from Robinson? His firm has a two-month lead time for searches, and the pace of creative searches may pick up again in the summer.

Agency executives see other trends at play. One suggested that marketers are more inclined to shift business without reviews, especially considering the relatively short lifespan of a CMO these days and the time it takes to conduct a search. Also, some marketers may just be more discreet, contacting fewer shops about their opportunities and reducing the possibility of leaks, said another agency exec.

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