Mark Pinsent wrote a post describing the incident in the UK, and his thoughts about the whole PR pitch process in his post, "Stop the PR pitch madness." Mark as the title of the post describes believes PR agencies should not pitch ideas to clients.
I had three reactions.
One, I was thinking that if the expectation in the industry is that client expect you to pitch them with ideas. Maybe every agency should just work on one pitch, though you might have alternative ideas for different verticals. Instead of working on the ideas, agencies could work on incrementally improving the same pitch over time.
You could start the pitch off by stating that you don't give ideas away for free.
Two, many of the interactive agencies I’ve worked at will provide digital marketing ideas, but where those agencies were most successful was to pitch for an assessment of the client’s marketplace before coming up with any ideas. And we were paid for the assessments.
Three, one of my landlords had a reputation for paying his bills on time without hassle. One of the vendors told me he was a pleasure to do business with, and every time he called or left a message even for a minor issue, the vendor would jump to make sure he was extremely satisfied. Some would even say, paying bills early is bad business, but for that landlord he always had good service from his vendors.
I'm wondering if the practice of paying the losing agencies a fee for their ideas is very similar to the story about the landlord. Confused.com gets a reputation as a client that's worth working for because the company has proven it values your advice and work. I'm sure the next time Confused.com asks for bids people will be falling over themselves with good ideas, because confused.com has demonstrated the company plays more than straight with you. To me this is a great public relations strategy, one that extends the company's reputation in the PR world. I am sure Confused.com can expect great service from any PR agency that wins their business, plus, as this discussion proves the effort so out of character has put Confused.com at the center of conversation in the PR industry.
Either way, if you are in the marketing and communications business I'd heartily recommend reading Mark Pinsent's post and the more than 30 responses from communications professionals in the industry.