Pitch Perfect: How To Win Pitches Every Time
In the creative industry, I’m not sure there’s anything as contentious as pitching.
If you’re fortunate, and you work for an agency with a proven background you might not need to.
If you’re a niche freelancer, who does something extremely specific and quantifiable, you might be able to avoid it.
For the rest of us – creatives and marketers alike – at some point, we’ll need to win pitches.
And this is where the problems begin.
The late nights, stressed out creatives, even more stressed accounts people.
The intern roped in to man the photocopier.
The endless mockups and visualisations. That bit when you question why people still use PowerPoint.
Last minute printer fails, the sickly feeling that you haven’t really answered the brief.
And all before you’ve stepped into the meeting room.
There’s a tremendous cost associated with pitching. Staff, resources, energy (and a copious amount of spray-mount).
And probably the most costly cost, is time.
Time that could be spent making a difference. Doing great work for the clients we already serve.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to win at pitching.
It’s hard to work in this industry without pitching. In engaging a design, creative or marketing agency, clients need something to go on to make a decision.
They need to know how a prospective agency will tackle their brief.
They need to know scope, depth, vision. But most of all they need to be wooed.
And it’s this wooing that turned pitching into the arms-race that it is today.
Year ago I worked on an agency pitch for the London Mayor’s Office, that had the production value of a small play. And yet we didn’t win.
Consider all that time and manpower, only to stumble at the last hurdle.
But after 15 years, I’ve figured out how to win pitches every time.
Stop Showing Off
In my humble opinion, I believe the reason we took the L all those years ago, is that we were trying to solve the brief.
We were trying to win the business. And did this by throwing everything we had into a presentation.
We were showing off. We were trying to hit a home run, score the winning goal (or whichever sport-based analogy suits you best).
However, clients don’t want you to present the solution. They want you to win them over.
If you come in with glossy, finished work, there’s nothing for them to do. You’ve made them irrelevant.
It’s their journey after all. They also want to be creative, and to justify their roles and salaries. They want to have a hand in their own future.
So as creatives or marketers, it’s our job to act as a guide on that journey.
To steer them, coach them, allow them to discover themselves.
Stop trying to win pitches. Start trying to earn attention.
Lose Before You Win
If you want to win pitches, you have to start by losing.
Losing all the mockups, losing the glossy visualisations on Apple devices.
You don’t need the army of freelancers, or the intern now stuck in the office at 1am, binding documents.
The 50-page presentation isn’t necessary. You don’t need to commit all those resources, and precious time.
Just figure out the simplest way to convey a big idea.
Maybe it’s just a sketch, or even just be a conversation.
In his book ‘Perfect Pitch’, author Jon Steel tells a story about a series of new business pitches, he sat in on behalf of a WPP client.
The process is arduous to say the least, with every agency demonstrating the same ‘core competencies’ (after spending an inordinate amount of time getting the projector to work).
Just when all hope is lost, the final agency enters the room. It’s a single individual – no team, no projector, no laptop.
“He went to the back of the room, and picked up a chair, bringing it over and placing it right in front of the five of us who comprised the review committee. “Do you mind?” he asked. “I’d really like to just have a chat.” There is a God, I thought.”
Will this result in winning more pitches? Probably not, but that’s OK.
Just by avoiding the trap of the pitch arms-race, you’ve already won – even if you lose.
You’ve saved time and resource, for yourself and your prospective client.
And even better, you’ve condensed your pitch down to the essentials. What really matters.
If prospective clients have an expectation of seeing finished work at the pitch stage, maybe those aren’t the clients for you.
Win The Right Pitches
The client you want, is the client who’s interested in you.
The client that likes the way you think. The one who’s excited by the possibilities you offer.
The winning isn’t winning the business, it’s winning the right business.
Clients impressed by pandering and showmanship, are probably not the right business for you.
So drop the theatrics, the rehearsed jokes, the meaningless marketing buzzwords.
Get interested in your prospective client, and get them interested in you – the real you.
I can’t say for sure this approach will mean you’ll win every pitch, but it’ll certainly feel like you do.
(And your intern will be much happier for it.)
– Greg Bunbury