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Are chemistry meetings toxic?

A column by Kevin Chesters that recently appeared in Campaign caught our attention. The British consultant discusses the notorious 'chemistry meetings' between agencies and their future clients. The title alone says enough about the author's opinion: 'Failing chemistry'.

Image by MM

"Agency heads spend a lot (too much?) time on pitches and try through this flawed process to prove that their agency is undeniably different from the many others. Fortunately, some more enlightened intermediaries and clients realize that the traditional creative pitch is the least effective, least efficient, and least sensible way to choose an agency partner. The most popular new trend is the 'chemistry meeting', where agencies are asked to present their credentials, their approach, or their people," says Kevin Chesters.

"These meetings are a kind of intense speed dating," he writes. "A strange cross between 'The Apprentice' and 'Love Island', with all the disadvantages of a pitch, but with even more impossible deadlines."

"Whether your collaboration with an agency will be successful has nothing to do with the size, reputation, role, or fame of the agency. It's like any relationship: success is based on trust built over time (...) Chemistry meetings are not a suitable way to choose an agency partner because you can only begin to understand what an agency stands for when you start working with them," he believes.

We asked Martine Ballegeer, co-founder of PitchPoint, for her view on the matter.

"In the context of selecting an advertising agency, 'chemistry meetings' are a well-known phenomenon. Such meetings are often seen as a low-threshold way for advertisers to quickly 'taste' different agencies. The idea is that within a short time span, it is felt whether there is a click, or the 'chemistry' is right."

This seems like an efficient first step, but as Kevin Chesters rightly points out in his article, we should not be misled by the apparent simplicity of this process. It is not a panacea and certainly not the only criterion on which a partnership should be selected.

Chemistry meetings do indeed serve a valuable function as a first filter. They enable advertisers to get a first impression of the agency without too much effort. If there are clear signals that stand in the way of cooperation, these can be recognized early on and valuable time can be saved. It prevents agencies from unnecessarily investing in the extensive pitch process if their chances of success are minimal.

Yet, it is crucial to acknowledge that building a successful and sustainable relationship with an advertising agency involves more than a positive first impression. It requires a thorough exploration of the working methods, the creativity, and especially the result-oriented nature of the agency. The true value and potential of an agency often only come to light at a later stage, when strategic and operational possibilities are delved into more deeply.

It is therefore of essential importance that chemistry meetings are part of a broader strategy. This strategy should also include elements such as reviewing case studies, evaluating past campaigns, and, if possible, conducting a pilot project. Such an integrated approach provides a much more complete picture of what an agency has to offer.

Agencies should also strive for transparency and openness in these meetings. It's not only a chance for an agency to show its best side but also to ask questions and learn about the needs and expectations of the potential client. This two-way communication channel is fundamental for building mutual understanding and trust.

Following Chesters' critique, the process should not be reduced to a superficial spectacle. It should be seen as the first step in a dialogue that must deepen with each subsequent interaction. Only through a thorough and holistic evaluation can an advertiser find the right partner, one that fits the culture, objectives, and ambitions of their brand. This will not only lead to a more informed choice but also to more sustainable and fruitful partnerships.

Source: Media Marketing -

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