The pitch is dead, long live the pitch!

By Laura Wilkinson-Rea,

I can still remember it now, frantically hitting ‘function F7’ on my laptop hoping that our 50+ slide Powerpoint would somehow miraculously appear on the big screen in the boardroom where we were about to pitch to a prospective client.

Nowadays I find myself on the other side of the table and being presented to. I’ve seen an array of agencies from global networks to start-ups respond to briefs with the aim of winning a slice of the client’s business.

There is no magic formula to winning a pitch, but there are some things you can do to ensure that you don’t fall at the final hurdle. Simple things, such as not directing the entire presentation to one person client side assuming that they’re the sole decision maker. Or speaking over your colleagues and disagreeing with them when asked a relatively simple question from the client. Or being so creative with the budget that it leaves the client pondering the pounds rather than discussing the content…

But is the ‘traditional way’ of pitching the best approach for agency and client? Or is it time that we rethink how we marry clients and agencies together?

Too often in the name of fairness we create our own constraints such as a set time to present followed by Q&A. Is presenting within a set time a top attribute that the client is looking for? If this is the case can you blame the agency for bringing the veteran polished presenters rather than the team that will actually be working on the day-to-day business?

Do the pitch briefs enable agencies to showcase their talent and capabilities to the prospective client? Too often agencies are given a few weeks (or less) to come back with entire campaign proposals. I’m yet to see a campaign presented at pitch that is even close to complete.

Are clients too ambitious with the briefs that are set? In the age of integrated campaigns can agencies really fly solo to present their best ideas to the client?

Which leads me to think, should the prospective client be rescoping briefs entirely?

Perhaps giving bite size chunks of the scope of work which would then allow for more fleshed out proposals and a better insight into agency management and capability? This also may go someway to help elevate the age old dilemma of agencies feeling like they are ‘giving away’ their creative intellectual property during a pitch process.

Personally, for me, the most important part of selecting a new agency partner is the chemistry meeting.

Ensuring that these are held at the agency’s office with all levels of team members present. And making the agenda of the meeting about all about the agency – their culture, achievements and ambitions. These first meetings have given me the most useful insight.

Should the chemistry meeting move from becoming the ‘entrance exam’ for the pitch but a significant part of the pitch itself? Should we be considering agency/client ‘speed dating’ set-ups to break the ice where all team members meet each other?

Although the power is largely in the hands of the prospective client, for both parties it provides transparency.

What is key is that the client needs to be fully engaged in the process and not just turn up to complete a scorecard after a series of presentations. No doubt the prospective client wants the best agency and perhaps a series of prescriptive presentations puts future agency partners at a disadvantage before they’ve even hit ‘function F7’.

Laura Wilkinson-Rea has worked in the PR and communications industry for over 18 years. Beginning her career in agency and later transitioning to in-house leading communication campaigns for some of the world’s most recognised brands.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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