Back in 2018, I was having an argument about tissue meetings with the HSBC board account director at JWT, Patrick Netherton. Neither of us could agree on the exact purpose of these meetings - were they to present workable ideas to clients or just a bunch of rough thoughts which may excite them? Needing to be right, I got onto Wikipedia as soon as Patrick had gone. To my surprise, there was no entry for “Tissue Meeting.” Being a keen contributor to the site – check out “St Nectan’s Glen,” “Granny Smith” and the “Sandfly Colliery Tramway” – I wrote up a page which described tissue meetings exactly according to my own understanding of them, then sent the link to Patrick with a “see, I told you so!”
To his credit, he immediately set about editing the page so that it also read: “these meetings are often used as an excuse by lazy advertising creatives to present half-hearted work.” Since then, some grown-ups have replaced our opinion pieces so that the page actually offers some useful insight, but the fact that the entry remains alive suggests that the tissue meeting is still a vital tool in the advertising arsenal.
The question is, has it served its usefulness? Is it time to retire this beloved industry institution? When I was a junior, tissue meetings were a shiny new import from the US where they had been pioneered by Chiat Day. Agencies could now present a few ideas in their unfinished state, allowing clients to pick a winner early on, or to feel more involved in the creative process. Tissues were mainly for existing clients who loved ideas, and were almost never used for pitches. They were also quite rough and ready, not because of laziness but so that clients could focus on the idea, not the polish. Tissues are flimsy things, so anything too solid might feel like the agency was pushing an agenda.
Now more than ever, agencies are finishing up multiple ideas to a high standard to share with clients at tissue stage. This often involves films, animated digital ideas and executions across multiple touchpoints. It requires long hours, often with expensive external resources such as editors, extra creative teams and designers. Agencies are exhausted as they finish up to five routes for no extra income when only one can run. And when the tissue meeting is for a pitch, the only guarantee is a huge bill at the end of it. More often than not, clients don’t pick a winner, leaving agencies to finish off two or more ideas, again at great expense.
So maybe it’s time to retire the tissue meeting and go back to a bit of gung-ho agency confidence that the idea being put forward is the idea that will work. Doing so has the added benefit of not exhausting agency personnel and resources if a pitch doesn’t go their way. I recently pitched with an agency for a major confectionary brand. We went with one idea. There was no tissue meeting. It was refreshingly straightforward. We had an idea we believed in. It didn’t break the agency and left it with energy and resources to pitch for other business should this one not go their way. It may have been the way people did things before Chiat Day, but it felt like the future.