The Pitch

 Posted by on May 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm  Television
May 012012

From AMC

I watched AMC’s new reality series The Pitch, which just premiered on April 30. It’s a competition show–every week they will show two advertising agencies competing to win a corporate account. (I also watched the trailer on AMC On Demand, and based on that, it seems possible that we will be seeing certain agencies–McKinney, for instance–on more than one episode over the course of the show.)

The first hour introduces us to  Las Vegas-based agency SK+G, and New York-based agency The Ad Store. Jerry Kramer, Founder/Managing Partner of SK+G, talks about how ultra-competitive the advertising industry is, and he adds, “If you’re not committed, if you’re not passionate, you’re not going to be here a long time.” SK+G  is widely known as a hospitality agency, and they’re trying to diversify. Kramer says their selling point isn’t hospitality, it’s the intelligence they bring to the table and how hard they work.  “You can’t teach passion,” he says. “You have to hire passion. I can’t understand why you’d want to be in this business and not do the very best you can do.”

We also meet Paul Cappelli, Founder/Chairman of The Ad Store, who has been working in advertising for more than 30 years. (It’s also mentioned at one point that he won his first Clio at BBDO.) One of his copywriters, Steven, describes him as “the Real Mad Man.  He comes in, he commands the room.” He’s had some huge accounts in the past, but things have been more challenging lately.  He talks about how his business has been struggling, and his hopes that the Waste Management account (if they win it) could be their rebirth.

The two agencies are competing for Waste Management’s business.  (At the briefing meeting, both agencies meet with their potential client in the same conference room) The Waste Management (WM) executives tell them that the campaign should show how WM turns trash into energy. SK + G later works on a campaign that will be as viral as possible, inspired by the Statue of Liberty wording and using a lot of social media where you download Instagram videos. The Ad Store comes up with the simple slogan “Trash Can” and works on guerilla marketing. They also come up with a bunch of eco-friendly questions that can be placed online.

Along the way, we  see both agencies struggle to come up with the best idea through several brainstorming sessions, and some occasional arguments.  We also see a little bit of Cappelli’s personal life–he and Steven, a copywriter, are also a couple. An old-school New Yorker, Cappelli comes across with a lot of heart and authenticity. I felt like I was rooting for him. We also see a little bit of the SK+G executives’ personal lives too, as one of the execs, Doug, sneaks home for a few minutes in the middle of a deadline so he can spend a little time with his kids.

At the end of the episode, the client reveals which agency won their business.

The second hour of The Pitch opens up with Tracy Wong, founding partner of WDCW Advertising. We also meet Liz Paradise, Group Creative Director at McKinney Advertising, and Jonathan Cude, McKinney’s Chief Creative Officer. Both agencies are competing for the chance to do business for Subway, and we see them all sitting in the same conference room together. “It’s always awkward being in the same room with the competition,” Cude says. “You’re always sizing them up, and I’m sure the same thing is happening on the other side.”

WDCW’s offices in Los Angeles are shown (some of their previous campaigns have included Quizno), and Wong says, “We don’t like playing it safe. It’s about doing things that no one has ever seen before.”

McKinney is based in Durham, North Carolina, and we actually get a screen shot of Lucky Strike!!!  (There is a close-up of their old headquarters. No sign of Lee Garner though.)

Subway started offering breakfast in 2010 and they are now going after the 18-24 demographic, so they want a fresh edgy campaign that will get young people interested. WDCW’s Wong comes across like an idealist, talking about, “…the power of creativity and inspiration that comes from the soul.” He also says he’d rather do a bold campaign that might not work than play it too safe.

We see both agencies working on their pitch, and a few of McKinney’s  copywriters and art directors are featured. (Jenny, a pretty, young blonde, comes across a bit Peggy Olson-like in her quirkiness and enthusiasm.)

It’s interesting to see the differences in today’s advertising compared to the kinds of things we see on Mad Men. In 2012, YouTube is a huge way to market. One of McKinney’s copywriters introduces the team to a clever YouTube rapper, MACLethal, and McKinney ends up using some of his rap in their campaign. They also decide to bring MACLethal with them to Connecticut, so he can do a freestyle rap at the end of the pitch.

We see a little of Liz’s family life, and she talks about balancing the wife/mother role with that of careerwoman. She says as a woman in this industry she’s definitely made sacrifices, and “For me, that’s a balancing act that I’ve been working on perfecting for 18 years, and I still don’t have it down.”

Going forward, both agencies get several ideas from their creatives, and then decide which ideas to use for the pitch. We see both agencies do their pitch for the executives of Subway. WDCW’s team has a campaign involving zombies known as “zAMbies”–trying to get out of their comatose breakfast rut. McKinney utilizes MACLethal and also presents a couple of different ideas/taglines.

Subway ultimately decides which agency has the most strategically effective pitch, and there is rejoicing from those executives in the room and as they head home. For anyone (like me) who’s watched Mad Men and felt bad that the copywriters don’t get more glory, at least on The Pitch we do get to see that they’re not totally overlooked.  One of the executives from the winning agency voiceovers that, “There were instrumental people in every discipline back at [our agency] who aren’t getting to share this moment today, but they are the backbone of what made us win.”

I’m enjoying the show so far, and I think it has a lot of potential. Will it bring in the Mad Men-loving audience? Hard to say. The modern-day executives come across very different from what we see on Mad Men. Jonathan Cude has a laconic way of saying “‘Kay….” when a copywriter brings him an idea that doesn’t quite thrill him, and it’s hard to say if any of these people will come across nearly as charismatic as Don Draper. I liked Liz Paradise and Paul Cappelli though. This show is focusing on the business, not the characters’ personal lives, but I did enjoy the little glimpses of their home life that I did see.

The Subway episode came across somewhat more interesting than the Waste Management episode, for me. Going forward, I’m sure each individual episode will be different, and some more riveting than others. For the moment, I’ll definitely keep watching.

For those of you who watched it, what did you think of it?




  10 Responses to “The Pitch”

  1. We watched the preview episode (the Subway one) and much as we love MM, it just did not grab us. It wasn’t badly done, but did not keep our attention.

    • I like some reality shows–this one seems well-done but it may end up having a limited audience. I think it is clever of AMC to try it because with the advertising tie-in it will attract some viewers initially. However, keeping them is always a trickier thing.

      I also hear it is the same producers of “Undercover Boss,” but I haven’t watched that one.

  2. All these shows suffer from the same problem: episode formula. They don’t change the order of things. They don’t alter the way they approach each element. I don’t understand why anyone would think that would be a good idea. I’m sure it is easy on the production and editing crews, but after a few episodes, you know everything that is going to happen…except which one wins. And if you’re going to spotlight jerks, they better be more interesting than the ugly perspective from which they approach business and life. I don’t need to watch another business man with ill priorities. I would have liked to see more from the guy who was struggling with work and family. That conflict would have been a lot more interesting than watching goatee and Hawaiian shirt boss puff out his business chest one more time. This show comes from the people at Undercover Boss, and that program was interesting for an episode or two. Everything was predictable thereafter. Switch things up. Ask new questions and set new scenarios each episode. Nobody is fooling anybody. This show has writers setting every moment. How about they do their job and do some writing? The only way most of us are going to weather more than a handful of episodes is if they ask intelligent, creative people intelligent, creative questions where they at least have a chance to say something interesting. The boss bravado is old hat. Snore.

  3. Being sick and unable to sleep, I watched it…one time was too many. MM is a brilliantly written show for grown ups. “The Pitch” is down there with “The Apprentice” and similar fare. Note to AMC: stick with your original programming brand, “Story Matters Here”.

  4. I saw the Subway shoot out a few weeks back. I was bored to death. It took me two and a half weeks to figure out what “zAMbie” was. I wouldn’t watch again.

  5. As the ‘junior partner’ in my spouse’s small-city ad agency, I was bored… too formulaic, as others have pointed out…I’m not a reality TV person, I guess.

  6. Episode one was worth watching only once. The leaders spouted different versions of the same platitudes that many utter on competition shows – it seemed like I’d heard them before.

    This competition was a study in contrasts.

    (spoilers-by-inference follow)

    The Ad Store is small, old school, message oriented, not really current with multi-media, on it’s last legs (unless, as the proprietor says, they score a major new account). This is much like SCDP, small and struggling, despite having long experience.

    SK+G is larg(er), loaded for bear with multi-media and the means to produce it under pressure and short notice, able to throw many bodies and minds at a problem, and oddly has two leaders – one of which will unashamedly walk on the other and anybody else on the team. I imagine to play in that environment one would have to have confidence and a thick skin. One might say that SK+G is more like McCann Erickson in that they have the “firepower” that SCDP doesn’t have.

    I’m old-school, I suppose. I distrust flash (which SK+G has in spades). I actually found the Ad Store idea to be the more appealing – but realize that I’m almost certainly not in Waste Management’s target audience.

    • The Ad Store is small, old school, message oriented, not really current with multi-media, on it’s last legs (unless, as the proprietor says, they score a major new account). This is much like SCDP, small and struggling, despite having long experience.

      Yup, I thought of that too. There was a bit of pathos about Cappelli when he talked about how he wasn’t sure his past accomplishments were necessarily remembered (I don’t have the exact quote at the moment). I liked him. I actually would really like a reality series that focused on one agency, week-to-week, but I guess that would present certain challenges. They might not like an audience following all of their campaigns.

      One might say that SK+G is more like McCann Erickson in that they have the “firepower” that SCDP doesn’t have.

      Definitely. When Kramer (or one of his colleagues?) said that people had compared their agency to a “sweatshop,” I thought about what Don had said about McCann being a factory.

  7. I’m afraid this is a show mostly watched by people in the industry- who love to watch a train wreck. Both episodes have shown us that:
    Advertising isn’t fun.
    Jerks work in advertising.
    Clients aren’t very sophisticated.
    Women are discounted.

    Our small agency is doing a “The Pitch” review every week, where we watch, then discuss for 30 minutes- then edit down a small 3 minute review

    We also studied the two agnecy sites and the client site before the show- and had picked SK+G to win-
    However- we really think that the Ad Store was far and away the better choice- and most polls we’ve seen online agree.
    We’ll keep watching- but this is one show where the viewers would probably make the better judges.

    • Thanks, David. It’s interesting to get your perspective. (Yours & your colleagues)

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