The Pitch That Missed

We’ve all been seduced by the drama and excitement of the advertising industry in television shows. It began with Darrin Stevens on “Bewitched.” Then, in the 80’s, there was “Thirty-Something.” For the last few years, we’ve seen it on AMC’s Sunday night hit “Mad Men.” And, now, there’s a new reality show about advertising.

It’s called “The Pitch.” It basically pits two agencies against one another as they try to come up with a winning campaign for a single client. Thing is, while 2.1 million people watch “Mad Men,” only 286,000 tune in for “The Pitch” (which follows “Mad Men” on AMC). Why? Because reality is never as glamorous as TV.

While the general public may not be watching, I am personally mesmerized by “The Pitch.” It’s fun to watch two shops approach the same challenge and come up with such different creative solutions. Even “reality television,” however, is far from reality.

First of all, agencies are rarely (if ever) in the room with the client at the same time. (The closest I’ve ever been to this is watching an opposing shop file out of the conference room before my team went in. Awkward). In “The Pitch,” the client basically meets with the two shops at once to give them background information on the account.

After this meeting, both agency teams go back to their respective shops and start to work. The camera basically goes from one team to the other to monitor their progress. Unlike “Mad Men,” there are no fights, backstabbing or office affairs (though I have seen all of these in my career). Apparently, you can’t fit that into a 45-minute segment.

In fact, you can’t fit much into a 45-minute segment. You don’t see much discussion about strategy. You don’t hear much about media planning or placement. And very little if any time is spent reviewing competitors’ work. All you see is the creative team trying to come up with ideas.

You can see the stress of the team members build as they work to come up with fresh and unique ideas. At least one or two people from each shop are interviewed in their homes. You see them work out, meet their kids, and watch them cook pasta. Back in the office, you feel their sweat when their creative director hates their concepts. Yet, as pitch time nears, the best ideas are selected. And the teams fly to the client’s office to make their presentations.

It’s a lot like “American Idol” except you don’t get to vote. I imagine the producers of “The Pitch” would have preferred to let the public vote, but the client probably drew the line. It is, after all, the client’s brand.

I am surprised that there are clients that would allow this process (and their creative strategies) to be televised. They were tempted, no doubt, by the 2.1 million viewers watching Mad Men. Unfortunately, only 10% of those viewers are watching. That 10% is composed, no doubt, of their competitors and a few of us in the advertising industry.

Unless the Nielsen numbers change, “The Pitch” will inevitably be cancelled. But, don’t worry, it won’t be the end of advertising agencies on television. Sooner or later, they’ll do a reality show about a mid-sized agency. They’ll follow the same people, week after week. And we’ll see back-stabbing, arguments, drinking, affairs – everything you want in a successful TV drama. Especially. . . the ratings.