Watching AMC’s “The Pitch”

Watching AMC’s advertising reality show, The Pitch, last night was a trip down Bad Memory Lane. When I was at Portfolio Center many years ago, I worked part-time for the school. One of my jobs was occasionally to shuffle guest speakers around from hotel rooms to school, etc. One of those speakers happened to be Mark DiMassimo of DIGO, the winning agency on The Pitch last night.

To my new-t0-the-business mind at the time, Mark was what I guessed the typical NY agency guy to be: fast-paced, fast-talking, ego-meet-you-at-the-door, chock full of kick-the-world-squarely-in-the-ass. Maybe a little bit chihuahua-like. The Thursday morning he was to speak I was sent to pick him up. Back then, my wife drove a well-loved Honda Civic. One of the weird safety features it sported was automatic shoulder belts. They sort of hung out on the door frame, then, when you cranked the car, they would sweep over your shoulders and strap you snugly to the seat.

So, anyway, I went and picked up this swarthy, fast-talking, NY ad guy, who hopped quickly into the passenger side of the Civic, talking ninety-miles-an-minute, freshly brewed Caribou coffee in hand.

I didn’t think much about it; I was trying to keep up with the banter and impress the guy. After all, everybody was a potential employer back then.

I cranked the car.

The shoulder belt swept efficiently over his shoulder pinning his arm and seriously sloshing hot cup of coffee firmly to his chest. He responded with a resounding “WTF?” and cursed back to his room for a change of clothes. I remember thinking at the time that, had I even wanted to, I wasn’t getting a job at DiMassimo.

Flash forward 15 years. Mark looked older last night. Less chihuahua-like. Beaten down a bit. 911 had taken some of his steam (it took steam from all of us… but he lived in NY where it hurt even deeper). His agency, he said, was about creating wonder. But I could almost feel him trying to find the wonder in his agency. The agency felt tired. It made me tired to watch them.

The client was a 30-somethings-women’s boutique called C. Wonder. The owner/client was clearly aware of being watched and put on quite a show. You could tell it was going to be difficult to please this guy. He spewed confidence in his company, his ability to build brands, and his role in selecting the right agency. Outside of the normal routine seen on the show, he insisted on visiting the two firms during the time they were working on their pitch. (Fuhgeddaboudit!) He blustered and railed, and enjoyed changing the rules wherever he felt like there were rules to be changed. We’re talking about a handful, here. Based on the small window of time we saw, I mentally predicted that Womenkind, the agency competing with DIGO, would win the day. The client hinted at it. He seemed fascinated by an agency devoted to marketing to women (THE most lucrative and desirable target market). He liked their energy and ideas. He stopped them mid-presentation to focus on one of their executions and seemed absolutely lathered up to hire them.

Wrong.

DIGO won the pitch. They won because they kept it simple. The other firm had incredible, palpable energy, exciting ideas, and  overwhelmed the client with creativity. DIGO had one idea. It wasn’t incredible. It wasn’t particularly great. Kind of a yawner, if you ask me. But, they wowed the guy with a semi-produced bit of video work (which seems, BTW, to be the way to win pitches these days). And, to be quite frank,  the video was not a particularly new idea or even an incredible execution of the concept. But DIGO made it easy for the blustery client to see how his brand could look on the numb-box. And he bought it. For all his chutzpah and bravado, he turned out to be an easy mark for a smartly produced pitch. Blinded by the LCD glow of a flat-screen, he failed to see the potential of perhaps better ideas.

“WTF” indeed. Well played, Mark. Congratulations.

And sorry about the coffee.