It’s long been the agency norm to say ‘yes’ to unpaid, speculative pitch work. In this industry, you earn your stripes – showing prospective clients you can handle the task.

But recent research from MediaSense has highlighted a dark side to the tender process. There’s been a wave of “unprecedented pitch activity” across the creative industry. And many agencies now have to pitch for every project, not just new clients.

Has this gone too far? Is this new trend harmful for agencies and clients alike? As one respondent put it “no other industry operates in a way which is so wasteful to human and business capital.”

Credit: Zulu Alpha Kilo – Spec | #saynotospec

As B2B marketers, our default position shouldn’t always be ‘yes’. Speculative work produced from pitches can result in thousands of pounds of wasted investment, let alone have a big impact on mental health, leading you down a fast-track to burnout. And it’s not just agency time that’s wasted. Pitches add months to client timelines too.

Some brave agencies have had the confidence to just say ‘no’. This has also led to joint action between ISBA and the IPA, with their Pitch Positive Pledge, an initiative that aims to reduce the “unnecessary work and (adverse) effects (on) people, profit and the planet”.

Pitches and the planet? Well, let me complete the circle:

Time is money. And pitches take up time. When we could be making money. According to the OUCH! Factor Report™, on average, an agency spends a total of 175 hours – that’s 22.2 days’ worth of valuable staff time – on each pitch. This is the equivalent of one employee working one whole month on just one pitch! The report suggests a ‘typical’ agency pitches 11 times a year. And only wins 48% of the time.

And even if you do win, pitch work rarely sees the light of day. That’s 175 hours worth of calls, in-person briefings, travel, researching, data-crunching, plus pitch material costs, overheads… the list goes on. The agency’s digital footprint and carbon footprint accumulates. Especially when the actual work hasn’t actually started yet.

What is a ‘digital CO₂ footprint’? It refers to CO₂ emissions caused by the production, use and data transfer of digital devices. Studies estimate the footprint to be between 2.3 – 3.7 percent of global CO₂ emissions (mainly caused by video streaming) – this is equivalent to emissions of the entire aviation industry.

This, here, is a problem. Because we do a lot of video streaming during pitches. A favourite format, and great short-cut for learning and creative inspiration when you’re up against a deadline. Especially if the video helps walk you through “the top 10 ChatGPT prompts for pitch-winning ideas” (or similar).

Ah. The shortcut of all pitch shortcuts: ChatGPT. It’s no secret that ChatGPT is a smart tool to spark or sharpen strategic propositions and creative ideas. But did you know that a single query uses 15 times more energy than your typical Google search? Research suggests a conversation with ChatGPT consumes around 50 cl of water. And with the rising number of 1+ billion users per month, the platform’s footprint is growing fast. The estimated carbon footprint of the GPT model alone is equivalent to a staggering 300 return flights from Paris to New York.

Ergo, pitching is bad for the planet.

Credit: Ryan Reynolds – ChatGPT Writes a Mint Mobile Ad

The fact of the matter is – the resource, internet-intensive frenzy caused by pitches produces a LOT of waste. This has an implied impact on the environment, but more importantly, it’s not a sustainable way of working.

So, when you’re next deciding whether to ask your trusted agency to pitch, it’s important to ask ‘why?’ Because we all know it takes three times the effort briefing three agencies. Perhaps it’s better for your workload (and the planet) to deliver good work with a partner who has a proven track record.

Let’s keep it simple