Independent agencies dominate Canadian pitches: Listenmore

Toronto-based search management company Listenmore has released the first overview of the Canadian pitch market, an overview of approximately 200 pitches spanning creative AOR, media digital and PR that were conducted between 2017 and 2020.

Listenmore founder Stephan Argent said that 30-page report grew out his attempts to find information on the number of pitches being conducted.

“It was selfishly motivated, but as it started to take hold and I saw the size of the market, I thought we needed to create a repository of some description to help us understand what the Canadian market is all about,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there internationally and certainly for the U.S., but why don’t we have anything for Canada?”

According to Argent, the goal is to provide the industry and Canadian agencies with an “overview of the buoyancy of the Canadian agency pitch market,” while providing insight on the most and least active sectors year over year. The goal is to issue an annual report.

While there is no minimum dollar value for assignments included in the report, Argent said that business ranged from smaller regional brands to well-known Canadian brands across categories with an annual marketing investment in the “tens millions of dollars,” such as CPG, travel and auto dealer associations.

There is a “significant” increase in independent agency wins

Across all disciplines, independent agencies landed approximately 77% of all the Canadian accounts up for review in 2020, up from 64% in 2017. “There’s an appetite for independent agencies,” said Argent, although he stressed that the numbers aren’t necessarily reflective of  the dollar volume of business moving within Canada.

That total is based solely on Canadian pitch activity, and does not include assignments awarded as part of global account moves, said Argent. “If a Coke or Pepsi moves internationally, and there’s a knock-on effect in Canada, it doesn’t take that into account.”

While Argent said he’d need to see more data before making sweeping statements about what this means for the industry, he agreed that it’s a good time for Canadian independents. “The numbers would certainly back up [the claim] that there are opportunities for independent agencies,” he said.

Pitch activity dropped during the pandemic

Not surprisingly, the amount of Canadian pitch activity dropped off significantly during the pandemic, falling approximately 12% from 2019. “It went very quiet from everybody from March to September, but when Labour Day hit the market suddenly ignited,” said Argent.

While not disclosing names, Argent said that a least one brand pulled a pitch when the pandemic hit. “I think that was very indicative of the Canadian market,” he said. “We had seven months of essentially dead air. In the 10 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never come across that.”

Are digital-only pitches dying out?

Digital-only pitches fell last year after accounting for as much of 14% of all pitch activity in 2018. Argent ascribed the fall to how digital has become embedded in the everyday life of both marketers and consumers. “It has become so engrained into the marketing psyche that it’s now a price of entry capability, which is why we’re seeing that decline,” he said.

The decline could also be attributable to the fact that…

…AOR pitches still dominate

Agency of record pitches still dominate, accounting for between 60-70% of the total pitch activity between 2017 and 2020. There is no obvious trend line when it comes to pitches of this nature, which bounced up and down from year to year.

Argent said that pitches of this nature tend to be a catch-all for multiple disciplines, including strategy, production and digital. The data does not reflect the movement of project-only work, which Argent acknowledged is an increasing trend.

Chris Powell