The Pitch – It’s Not Quite Mad Men: But It is Reality and on AMC

Did you catch the news, or watch the preview about the new AMC Original TV Series, The Pitch? No, this isn’t a baseball series. Boiled down to its essence, each week, the show is about two ad agencies competing for an Account with a National Advertiser. Due to debut on April 30th, the 1st Episode is available for previews for a limited time right now, on

The world of advertising has long been a staple commodity for the entertainment industry. Name a big star from the last 80 years, and there’s a good chance that they’ve been in at least one film about the goings on in ad agencies or about advertising executives:

Steve Martin – Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Tony Randall & Jayne Mansfield – Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957)
Albert Brooks – Lost in America (1985)
Rock Hudson and Doris Day – Lover Come Back (1961)
Cary Grant – Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Robert Downey Sr (Director) – Putney Swope (169)
Mel Gibson – What Women Want (2000)
Kirk Douglas – The Arrangement (1969)
Tom Hanks – Nothing in Common (1986)
Rosalind Russell & Fred McMurray – Take A Letter Darling (1942)
Bette Davis – Ex-Lady (1933)
Dudley Moore – Crazy People (1990)
Eddie Murphy – Boomerang (1992)

These days, in television, you need go no further than Mad Men – a dramatic series Set in 1960s New York. The sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama, Mad Men, follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell. By the way that series is also made by AMC, and the description of the show is how AMC itself describes the series. But I digress.

Not content to just rest on their laurels from their ultra successful series Mad Men, AMC is trotting out The Pitch which isn’t fiction. It is real life, as in reality television or documentary. None of the people are actors – instead they’re real life ad agency people as well as real life people working on the client side. So you won’t see any big names from Hollywood unless a well-known actor is brought in for a voice-over. But that’s down the road.

In the preview episode, Subway, the world’s largest fast food chain, yes, they’re bigger than McDonalds, invites reps from two agencies up to their corporate headquarters in Milford, Connecticut for the brief. That’s when the client tells the agencies what they want – in this case – a new, hard-hitting, commercial campaign to take Subway’s entrance into the breakfast market to the next level. Two sets of agency teams sit facing each other with the client set up in the middle – your basic U-shaped arrangement of tables and chairs.

Jonathan Cude - McKinney's Chief Creative Officer speaking to his creative staff

The agencies – McKinney, based in Durham, North Carolina, and WDCW, a L.A./Seattle-based firm, take the brief meeting, then fly back to their own offices. They’ve got just a week to put together an ad campaign that will knock the socks off the client – and win the account. While you may not know these agencies, they’re very successful.

WDCW lists among their clients: Alaskan Airlines, ESPN, Hitachi, Microsoft, T-Mobile, and VIZIO. McKinney has on its client rolls such firms as Sherwin-Williams, Lenovo, Ruby Tuesday, Gold’s Gym, Nationwide Insurance, and GNC.

Okay, now the competition starts. While this is not quite like ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’ – it is both a race and it is warfare of a sort. One agency will win the account, and the other will not. As Tracy Wong of WDCW says, ‘… this will be a brutal competition’.

That's Tracy Wong on the right. He's WDCW's Chairman

Back in the agency offices, the creative teams are assembled and given their marching orders. They’re told to brainstorm, discuss, chat, anything that it takes – but we want to see something, and we want to see something by tomorrow.

Some of the creative people say they’re motivated by fear. That they work best under pressure. Some say they can handle it. But at the end of the day – it is brutal.

Wong convenes a meeting the next morning. The creative teams will present their ideas or concepts and Wong says to the group,“If you like it, start talking about it – if you don’t like it – say nothing. Who wants to start?”

Silence. No one moves.

Finally, one woman copy writer steps up and describes her ideas. Dead silence. No one says a word. You can almost hear her deflating. It is brutal – beyond brutal. We won’t see any blood, but to deny that it is a bloody experience would be fool-hardy. And don’t forget, this isn’t facing the client – this is within her own firm.

Another team steps into the fray. Their idea is about changing the breakfast patterns of the designated demographic – the 18 to 24 year olds. The idea is to change people from breakfast zombies to zAMbies. Get it? A – M. Morning. Start your day at Subway.

Liz Paradise of McKinney (The Pitch)

Meanwhile, across the country in Durham, the same thing is going on. McKinney comes up with two concepts, ‘Let’s Fix Breakfast’ and the other is based around a rap song created by Matt Lethal who had just uploaded a rap video to YouTube that went viral – over 9 million hits in just a few days.

We go back and forth – between the agencies – watching the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into the creation of ad campaigns. The clock continues to tick. Each agency has just a week. Working at a feverish pace, pulling all-nighters – the week becomes days, the days, become hours. The Pitch does have a rhythm to it which leads to suspense and it is exciting. We watch, and we get caught up in it.

Finally each team wraps up their finished ads and flies off to meet the client in Milford gain. This is when each agency makes their own pitch. Literally millions and millions of dollars are at stake.

Subway's Marketing Director Tony Pace (center) laughs during 'The Pitch'

The clients watch as the agencies deliver The Pitch. Sometimes they smile, sometimes they have stone faces that don’t move. There are moments when you watch the reaction shots of the clients that are exhilarating, and other times, you can feel the pain. Yes these are the clients. They will decide on who gets the account. One agency will be jubilant. The other will be crushed.

For us, it’s not all that different from the Roman Gladiator games. One agency will have lost the account but not their lives. The difference is that instead of dying – the losing agency lives to fight another battle in another arena, at another time. Maybe not with the same people. But you get the idea.

As long as there are products to buy, there will be advertising. Generically, the ad business is often called Madison Avenue where a great many ad agencies were once based. But in today’s world, an agency can be anywhere. The point is that these are folks, who through their creative efforts, help us to decide about almost everything we buy and use.

Ad agencies, wherever they may be located, help us decide what we will eat, drink, drive, or where we will vacation, do our investing, or even where we will save our money; as well as what we will wear and where we will buy our clothes, what bed we will sleep in, what to take when we can’t sleep, how we will shave, take vitamins or clean our homes. Someone wants us to buy their products, and they’ll hire creative ad agencies to help us make those decisions. Unless you live under a rock – there’s no escaping this onslaught.

I thought the show was put together quite nicely – it had pace, and it was often exciting and dramatic – but I’m not sure that I can watch the same show week after week. The agencies change, the client changes, and the ad campaigns change. But the format is quite likely to be constant. For example, In Episode 2, the client is Waste Management – and two other agencies vie for the account.

While the show itself is not cutting edge, and most every one of us is familiar with advertising – we see it on our tvs or in our newspapers or other print media, we hear it on our radios, and we see it on our computers – but we may not know how the finished ads that we view or hear are made.

Give The Pitch a try. I’m not saying it is for everyone – but it is worth a look. Here is the trailer:

4 thoughts on “The Pitch – It’s Not Quite Mad Men: But It is Reality and on AMC

  1. I actually thought the show was pretty entertaining, but the advertising campaigns from both agencies SUCKED. In a single evening, I learned why I keep seeing so many god-awful, moronic tv ads bought by major corporations (the list is too long and too embarrassing to print here).

    I would give the “clients” a slight edge over the “creatives” based on the first episode. The clients know their products and their customers. The creatives combine a wing, a prayer, and a supertanker of ego. Although McKinney won, I seriously doubt any money will be paid for any of these marketing campaigns. If I’m wrong…if McKinney does get paid and Subway runs either of their commercials, I’ll want to change my vote.

    I think The Pitch works as entertainment — I don’t think anyone expects a decent campaign to be developed as we watch. It’s like watching professional wrestling. I’ll tune in to the show again. Just don’t ask me to watch any commercials that come out of this mindstorming process. And if you see me buying a Subway zAMbe a few months from now, stop reading my reviews.

    • Yes indeed, the show did get a strong hold on the viewers. Like you, I thought WDCW’s campaign sucked. It seemed hard to believe that this was the best idea an award winning shop like WDCW could come up with.

      I’m also sure that not everyone loves motor-mouthed rap artists. And you’re right – watching people toss and turn to develop an idea would have been like watching paint dry – so thankfully, we didn’t see the entire creative process.

      To top it all off, so far I’ve not sampled any Subway breakfasts, and don’t plan to.

  2. I also watched the show and was hoping to be some inspired. I am the president of an advertising agency in Los Angeles, and been in the industry for over 10 years. I also had the opportunity to work at high end, international agencies in LA as well. I will tell you that The Pitch is a good example of what the majority of large agencies are like: incredibly competitive, cut throat and surprisingly not all the creative. Yes, Creative Directors do take credit for the work of others. Yes, ad agencies do come up with pitches by blurting out random ideas. It’s ironic that the pitch that won was not McKinney’s idea at all. They simply brought it some “famous” rapper from Youtube. I will say that not all agencies are like that. I take pride in building my own agency with my business partner from the ground up that is more collaborative than competitive. We view our company more like a team, working together in a friendly environment towards the goal of creating the best brand campaigns. However, the reality is very similar to the show.

    • Hi Brent –

      Thanks for the comment and for sharing with us your insider perspectives. In my own experiences, I’ve known a guy that worked as a third party. He produced commercials for the ad agencies. But I’ve not worked in advertising myself.

      I’m not surprised that you ratified a few of the expressions that we heard on the show – about the intensely competitive nature of the ad industry, and the cut-throat aspects that accompany the battles within the creative processes.

      It is scary to think that careers are made or broken and there’s a trail of creative carcasses in the wake of every ad; or in the winning or losing of accounts. Best wishes to you and your own shop.


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