Pitch perfect

May 2018

One of the most striking figures from our ‘What Clients Think’ report is that 99% of clients believe that a pitch is good business practice for high value projects. I’m not expecting this year’s report (to be launched in May) to differ on this issue. Yes, there are occasions when agencies can go under the radar and avoid a pitch, but the key words here are ‘high value projects.’ Agencies that want to grow and win bigger projects from bigger clients need to excel at pitching.

So how can you sharpen your approach to pitches? Here are a few selected pointers:

Firstly, admit to yourself that this is a game
When you decide to pitch, you enter a game. It is a competition where there are winners and losers. In this sense, it is different from a client project and should not be approached in quite the same way. In a pitch your style, advice and recommendations should help you stand out and be memorable. After all, you are taking part in a new business process. It is not all about cracking the problem. The object of a game is to win and everything you do and say should be directed towards that one aim. Agencies that fully realise this have an immediate upper hand.

Clients want to know what you think
Many of the pitch presentations we see take too long to get to the interesting bit. What’s the alvaro-reyes-507651-unsplashinteresting bit? As far as the client is concerned, it’s what you think. It’s not the introduction to the agency and replaying the client’s brief. If it’s slide 17 and you are still talking about the agency and telling the client things they already know, then it is probably too late. So, start talking about them early, grab their attention with your particular big thought and make it memorable.

What is your strategic coat hanger?
A good pitch is not just a presentation. It is a well-constructed argument. That argument needs to be clearly delivered at the outset. This is the strategic coat hanger from which everything falls. It is the thread that runs through the entire presentation and makes you memorable. When the client has seen several different agencies, they need to be able to say, ‘Ah yes, they were the agency that said…’ However, too many presentations either lack any sort of strategic coat hanger or it is rather buried and not made explicit.

Make it easy for clients to buy
Many agencies like to say that they make the complex simple, yet don’t always follow the same rule when pitching. Leaving the client more confused than when you started is a classic mistake. Yes, some of the issues will be complex and it is good to raise questions. This shows that you understand the problem. But part of the ‘game’ is to make it easy for clients to buy. This is always about clarity not confusion – one consistent argument, crystal clear advice, straightforward next steps.

Remember the softer factorsemily-morter-188019-unsplash
I said earlier that a pitch is not all about cracking the problem. It is interesting that in our post- pitch interviews, clients spend most of their time talking about softer factors not the solution. Did the pitch team feel integrated? Were they strong individuals who sparked well off each other? Did one person dominate? Was there someone in the room who didn’t contribute that much and didn’t have a clear role? These softer factors are vital, and it is where preparation is so important. Most presentation ‘rehearsals’ are not rehearsals. They tend to be more about chopping and changing content and deciding who does what. In order to really master those softer factors, there needs to be more than one rehearsal. That’s how you weave in the seamless links, get the flow right and present yourselves as a united team.

Make sure your internal pitch process really works
My point about effective rehearsals is closely linked to the internal pitch process. The purpose of an internal pitch process is to help give you the best chance of winning, every time. It should be a truly useful set of steps and guidelines because lots of detailed rules tend not to work. One useful way to approach this is to imagine that a new person is joining the agency and will be handling the next pitch. Can you explain to that person everything that happens from receipt of brief through to final presentation? Do you have sets of checklist questions that can help at each stage? Of course, the fact that pitching is a game to be won is arguably one of the weaknesses of the pitch system. Are clients getting the right advice or the advice that wins the game? Sensible clients realise this distinction but still the demand for pitches continues. But that’s the subject of another article. Right now, though, participating in the right pitches and making sure that you excel at them is a key driver of agency growth.