This post is by Ethel Sanchez, Regional Planning Manager at Lowe and Partners Worldwide.
Small (often taken for granted) tips to get the most out of a pitch… besides fresh revenue.
As I started writing this, I couldn't help but fondly remember one of my first few blog entries as a young planner written on a night before a pitch, in those anxious wakeful hours between perfecting arguments and dressing up for the show.
But the finest mind work
Sets my spirit in blazing fire
Relishing every twitch of adrenaline and caffeine
Surging through my fingertips
I wait for dawn
Quiet and still
Ready for one bloody kill"
Many years and pitches after, the passion lives on for great work and winning, but I now find myself equally thrilled by the many other great opportunities that a pitch brings to an agency – its very special nature (the freshness of the challenge, the greater flexibility, the competition, and the immediate rewards) that shakes people out of the comfort of the usual and the ordinary, and its ability to boost people's creative literacy, business sense, and savvy-ness for strategy immensely in a much shorter period of time.
A pitch is a business strategy and agency branding exercise. Make it a point to not miss this part.
An often taken-for-granted first step before all the frenzy begins is deciding on a pitch strategy – the agency's line-of-attack.
- What kind of work will make us win?
- Who are we up against? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the other pitching agencies? What is their most probable approach to the task at hand? How can we beat them?
- How will the agencies and the work be evaluated? Will there be specific judging criteria?
- What are clients most keen on seeing? What will delight them? What kind of work or idea is superb in their eyes?
- What is our company proposition? What are our core strengths as an agency? Considering what the client is looking for and what competitors are most likely to do, which of these strengths should we highlight as we develop the campaign? What is the best way to sell these strengths?
- What is the one thing about the agency that we want the client to remember long after the pitch presentation is over?
The pitch context and challenge deserve a lot of careful thought too, as it is always a twofold show: pitching ideas and pitching the company's 'brand' of work.
A pitch strategy that outlines the company proposition, the kind of work to aim for, the priorities, and the tactics should set the tone for everything and make a lot of succeeding decisions easier to make – from the kind of idea and executions to go for, to the choice of materials to produce, and all the way to presentation scope, format, style, and casting.
Client insighting is an underrated, yet hugely important part of the agency (and pitching) game.
Proper client insighting makes all the difference between time and talent paying off and time and talent put to waste. Turn every pitch into an opportunity to train people (account managers especially) to get to the heart of the client's problem or agenda. This often takes reading between the lines and connecting dots, coming up with a higher level of understanding, shaping the brief to produce work with the highest probability of seeing the light of day.
Here are crucial areas deserving of some diligent investigation: What kind of work or idea would the pitch decision-makers want to attach their names to, or help them further their current business AND personal career agenda? What scale or size of work is easiest to say yes to given the client's resources? What assets or properties (names, logos, lines, design elements, marketing and media assets) are clients absolutely not ready to let go of? What kind of work or idea must the agency aim for in light of these insights?
Through the years, I have seen so much great work put to waste just because of one important detail otherwise so easy to look into, but unfortunately missed out. And while the ideal scenario is that the best/ biggest/ boldest/ most breakthrough/ most clever idea wins, in reality, the make or break often lies in the answers to the above inquiries.
Use client insights to help SHAPE the campaign objectives and the creative challenge, not as a list of mandatories or do's and don'ts. Use client insights as filters when judging the work internally. Take advantage of the pitch context – the fresh challenge devoid of all the baggage, cynicism, and complacency that comes with long-standing client relationships, to build this competency.
Find in every pitch an opportunity to further the agency's creative agenda.
I would usually recommend writing two creative briefs for a pitch: one for winning and another for creative play. The latter can be as open and wild as possible for practice or training purposes, but ideally guided by insights on what is feasible and what is not – as there may be real opportunities for famous work within the pitch project, which could then be implemented and funded easily once the account is won.
Brief for the exact kind of work or ideas that the client would comfortably say yes to, as the first order of the day is still to win. In parallel, spot opportunities for wild cards/ innovative concepts/ award-winning work within the same campaign and craft a version of the brief that will bring these out. Make them part of the full monty. Present in a way that makes the client appreciate the vital role that these 'more creative pieces' are going to play in the campaign, or in fulfilling business objectives.
Take advantage of pitches to train people to be better at the roles they play within the agency. Use pitches to soothe people's cravings for bigger, newer challenges, for bolder ideas, for tougher business problems. Use pitches to instill in people a stronger sense of pride in the agency's 'brand' of work. Use pitches to motivate people to think and care more not just about the work, but also the business and the bigger context within which the agency operates.
Win or lose, let's make every pitch most worthwhile.