Do agency pitch teams need to be more gender balanced?

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I was going out to pitch for a new agency to join my creative roster. I received a few negative comments from Marketing Week readers at the time: that it was wrong of me to initially meet with 10 agencies, even though as I’d pointed out, these were ‘fireside chats’ – with five incumbent agencies and five ‘new’ agencies – as it was my intention to reduce the list to a two-agency roster (one I had pre-selected) from these 10. It seemed only fair to give all the incumbents a crack of the whip and I was also keen to see some fresh thinking – hence the larger number of chemistry meetings than I would normally hold in such a situation.

Secret Marketer

From those 10 discussions, we asked three agencies to respond with a full-blown pitch and last week those agencies presented back to us. I am very pleased to say that I have convinced the Procurement Police to back the businesses’ preferred choice.

There are two things to note. First, we have selected a ‘new agency’ –  one we have not worked with before and which has virtually no sector experience of the industry in which my brand operates. Creatively, however, they were streets ahead of the two incumbents. Does this demonstrate the value of regularly reappraising one’s agency roster to avoid staleness?

Second, across the three agencies, 13 presenters were put forward and just one was a woman. I remember a time when a good few chief marketing officers were lecherous older men, and agencies put out the prettiest people they could find in Soho to appease them. Fortunately those days are gone and we have all grown up, and more and more CMOs are female. However, I do find it disturbing that based on my recent pitch experience, agencies are not representative of our market (or my own marketing department). 

At a time when the Prime Minister is facing attack for his lack of female frontbenchers, does we need a period of ‘positive discrimination’ in the agency world to redress this imbalance?

I’d welcome your opinions.

Readers' comments (5)

  • Sorry but I can’t agree with positive discrimination, you have to judge each individual on their abilities otherwise the discrimination pendulum simply swings the other way and remains discrimination whether positive or negative. While there is an element of the Old Boys Club I find this is diminishing as more ambitious woman push their way to the top.

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  • Might have been a more interesting article if you gave some insight on why they were streets ahead of the competition rather than their gender.

    Creatively streets ahead maybe - could you give some background to the what and the how (without breaking any confidentialties fo course)?

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  • Rowan - the challenge for me as a brand owner is that 50% of my customers are female... but if my agencies are 95% male, do I run a risk that the ideas are not taking account of my customer's psyche?

    Mr/Ms Lamb - I think it was their "not tainted by the industry" approach - my incumbents know my brand & my competitors very well. As such what they presented was very samey to what has gone before. The new agency came at this fresh, without the knowledge or baggage, and hence were very different in their approach to that what anyone else is doing in my sector... producing clear stand-out. Until then, we had all operated with the same pair of blinkers

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  • On positive discrimination: the point of it is that the status quo isn't a perfect meritocracy. Agencies (like everyone else) are likely to be biased by old & tired assumptions about which gender is good at what.

    Asking people to actively think about the gender composition of pitch teams reminds companies that the "best man for the job" may not in fact be the best person for it.

    And as Secret Marketer says, a gender mis-match against the target customer base certainly looks like the agency might be a bit blinkered.

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  • Being the owner of a creative agency and female, I'm only one of a handful of women in the industry creative side - there is a very good reason that agency side is still male based - it's called family.. In the Marketing / client side as a women you can get to 30 + get a great career under your belt and take your 1 years maternity leave, then back to work, the strategy may shift but the brand is there, essence of your role is there.

    The Creative side moves at a much faster pace, as a women if I'd taken just one year out of the agency space I would have missed updates to CS6, responsive web developments, creative trends and twitter, Google + and social media in a year. What happens is female creatives start a family and go freelance, they may or may not keep up with the market but they really are a rare beast. And I think will simply by nature continue to be few and far between.

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