Posts tagged ‘Pitching’
I’ve worked on rather a lot of pitches recently, of all shapes and sizes. Since the last couple of agencies I was employed by worked in a fairly similar way, I’d assumed that the pitch process was pretty much the same wherever you worked. It seems not.
I work for two agencies of a similar size. At one the MD’s pitch style is so hands-on he was pulling files together on a mac and had to be talked out of personally showing me how to work the binding machine. At the other, I have yet to meet the MD.
I’ve been into agencies who are really hot on things like copyright and intellectual property statements on pitch docs and ones who have never heard of putting copyright stickers on pitch boards.
Then there’s the agency that gave me a couple of weeks and a decent budget to pull qualitative research together for a big pitch (yay!) – and the one that asked me in to do the insight for a creative pitch response that had already been visualised.
So what I think I’m saying is there’s a lot of ways of approaching a project like a pitch – and perhaps no one way is the right way? Although I hope there won’t be too much retro-fitted, post-creative insight work to do in 2011…
It’s slowly dawning on me that it’s not just the large-ish integrated agencies I used to work for that get seriously messed about in tenders and pitches by clients. Every agency I go into seems to be in the throes of some kind of new business related angst. Take, for example:
- The client’s tender where (despite the ten page tender response document) it was decided on price.
- The client who got a face to face pitch plus written proposal from several very different agencies, but three months in has yet to appoint anyone.
- The client who wanted a strategic, communications-led response to his business issues but also needed to see it as ready-to-artwork creative in the same meeting.
- The client who sent over thirty briefs to their agency, all needing response within a 4 week timeframe.
- The client who didn’t appreciate that they could only choose two of Good, Fast and Cheap.
Which reminds me of this:
More than for any other specialism, the First Client Meeting or New Business Meeting can be particularly challenging for Planners.
Account Handlers can communicate their excellence by being all organised, professional and empathetic. Creatives have their showreel and the option of a ‘challenging’ personal style statement to fall back on. Meanwhile the Account Planners have to first explain what they actually do for a living before they can even get round to convincing the new client that they’re rather good at it and will take good care of his or her brand.
I’ve had one new business prospect tell me mid pitch that all my insight slides were wrong as that’s not what the last customer focus group he watched said. At another pitch I resorted in the end to getting my portfolio of past work out to prove my credentials to a sceptical client.
By the way, Planners should never agree to present creative credentials to prospective clients as you’ll inevitably get asked to explain the strategy behind the one campaign that was heavily, erm, post rationalised and find yourself trying to talk your way out of a very big hole…
Its all very well saying that Account Planning is the best new business tool invented, but if the client doesn’t understand what you do and how you might be able help them, the first few meetings can be a wee bit tricky.
Perhaps the APG could do a bit more client focused PR to help us out? Or maybe we just need to embody all that is awesome, all the time :-)
We’ve all been there at one time or another. The client pitch brief that asserts their ambition for the brand to be seen as the country’s leading X or most aspirational Y. When you know full well that the brand has more baggage than Terminal 5 on a BA strike day, is right up there with Peter Mandelson in the public’s affections and that the actual product doesn’t perform well against the competition. Oh, and they have a budget approximately a quarter of the size required to affect meaningful results.
So what do you do? Pitch promising to give them exactly what they want but knowing you can’t deliver? Pitch giving them a reality check but knowing you’ll lose? Or decline to pitch on the basis that the client has clearly lost all touch with reality?
I wish I could say that the latter is always the case. But we know it isn’t. Perhaps it’s the role of pitch intermediaries like the AAR and Haystack to challenge pitch briefs and give a severe reality check.
Ben over at IFIABTWC has been writing about his Fantasy Agency (which he says would be called Pavement). I’m definitely with him on:
The office shuts at 6. You can work afterwards if you really want to, but that’s up to you. No one wants to stop you working hard but Pavement does not want you to feel compelled to endure a life of pointless presenteeism.
Ben’s writing from a creative point of view, so I thought I’d throw in my own Fantasy Agency List:
Agency policies to include:
- open plan is fine; packing desks in so tightly that you can’t walk between them is not
- helpfulness and tidiness are next to godliness – and more importantly, form part of your appraisal
- go to the pub after work if you like, but its not compulsory and you won’t be penalised for failing to turn up
- as Ben wrote, ‘If you need help, help will be provided’; equally if you are perfectly capable of cracking on with something you will be left alone to do so
Specifically regarding pitching:
- only for clients where the chief decision maker resides in the UK
- whose company is solvent
- and whose head office is less than four hours travelling time from the agency (three if driving)
- and have a more than adequate and confirmed marketing budget for the next 12 months
- where four or less agencies are pitching creative and/or strategy
- and a date for a final pitch decision is set in stone
- no sub-prime finance, gambling, fags or really boring b2b clients
I’m prepping a pitch at the moment. So I was interested to read Merry Baskin’s piece in March’s Admap about the pitch process.
Merry’s Ten Top Tips for Agencies includes ‘Rehearse. Three times- once for content and storyline, twice in front of an audience and thrice, the dress rehearsal.’ Three times? The reality of agency pitching as I’ve experienced it (in several agencies) is less about Merry’s multiple rehearsals or Jon ‘Perfect Pitch’ Steel’s ‘first fly your global pitch team to one location’ and more like:
Pitch-date-minus-21-days: Pitch brief arrives. Ignored by everyone for 3 days in order to firefight latest client crisis.
-17 days: Designated Account Director requests Dream Team for pitch. DayDream Team and half the creative resource actually required assigned.
-16: Team kick off meeting called. But takes a week to find gap in everyone’s diary.
-15: Read 148 page powerpoint briefing document and accompanying three research debriefs. Not clear which research methodology used or when it took place so of limited use, but will have to refer to in pitch or will loose points.
-13: No budget for fresh research, so recruit next door neighbour’s hairdresser and the receptionist’s dog for depth interviews.
-8: Pitch team kick off meeting actually happens. Result of meeting – everyone needs to do some work before we can have another meeting.
-6: Creative brief written. Due to multiple audiences and channel outputs required by pitch, brief is four pages long. Major editing required.
-5: Brief Creative. They ‘challenge’ the client’s brief. Remind them of the difference between wining a pitch and actually producing effective work.
-4: Start writing presentation/leave behind. Writer’s block.
-4: Creative First Thoughts. Some ideas total genius and some less so. The bad ones are going to take a lot of getting rid of.
-3: Creative Second Thoughts. They bring their CD in for Extra Fire Power. Agree compromise. Consider alternative career in United Nations, Hostage Negotiation etc.
-3: Show first draft of presentation to agency VIP. He has had a better idea, but not thought to mention it until now. Rewrite presentation, incorporating VIP’s ideas and post-rationalising change in creative direction.
-3: Check someone has booked a visualiser. The fast-and-good guy is booked on another job. We have the good-but-slower guy.
-2: Double check someone has booked trains/planes/hotels etc. Point out that perhaps we won’t be at our best having got up at 4.30am to catch the train.
-1: Should be rehearsing now, but visualiser is still wielding his felt tips, have run out of spray mount and agency VIP would like to make a ‘few tweaks’ to the powerpoint.
-1 (late): Sending out for pizza.
-1 (even later): Hunting for an A2 artwork bag. Might have more luck hunting for Loch Ness Monster.
Pitch Day! : Got boards, laptop with presentation, projector and pitch team all together and heading out the door. We can always rehearse on the train, right?
New Business is turning into a bit of a farce at the moment.
A client I pitched for in November (who announced within 24 hours that we were down to the final two agencies) let us know today that they’d finally made the decision to appoint the other lot. That’s three months it took them to chose between agencies A and B. How hard can it be?
Then there’s the never ending PQQs, ITTs and other tendering related, time vampire red tape, the client who took so long to decide on which agency to appoint that they went bust in the meantime and the clients who are seemingly incapable of returning calls or emails politely enquiring if a long overdue pitch decision is imminent.
Pitching is an incredibly expensive way of doing business and most clients don’t seem to realise that the agency ‘overflow’ resources which have to be redirected towards time consuming pitches are becoming increasingly scarce in businesses that are running a tight ship in order to stay afloat in this stormy economy.
Fortunately my place is winning new business as well as being messed about a lot (otherwise I’d be worrying about my job), but in the meantime, may I present the New Rules For Clients Upon Calling A Pitch:
- Underestimate the budget you have allocated as it will almost certainly have reduced by the time you get round to appointing an agency.
- If you think your company is about to go bust, now is not a good time to hold a pitch.
- Pitching is very, very expensive from the agency’s point of view. And it takes up a lot of your time and resources too. There may be agencies hungry for work and desperate to get on the pitch list, but limit creative pitches to as many agencies as you can count on one hand. And tell them how many they’re up against so they can make an informed decision on whether to proceed or not.
- Keep in touch. Honestly, we understand that your company’s circumstances might unexpectedly shift and you’ll need to re-evaluate. But only if you actually talk to us.
you can run, but you can’t hide, Mr Client
I’ve got an in-tray full of Pending Pitch Outcomes. There’s everything in there, from £M+ integrated bonanzas to consultancy projects and startups.
But none of them have been signed off. In every instance we’re the agency of choice, or are down to the final two, but the client has delayed their actual decision to appoint – in some cases for several months now.
It’s a bit disheartening when you (and a large chunk of agency resource) throw yourself into a full blown pitch, confident that the client has promised to make their decision within a few days of your presentation, only to be kept waiting…and waiting…
I’m doing all the usual keeping-front-of-mind proactive measures but it seems that the dire economic conditions are making senior management extremely reluctant to sign off any new marketing spend or to commit themselves to anything that doesn’t have an immediate and totally measurable ROI (hello, online media chaps).
Pitching in itself isn’t exactly a cheap way of winning business. But the Tender Queens tell me they’re experiencing similar problems and it’s not just my agency, it seems to be pretty much across the board. So I guess we’ll all just have to keep keeping our fingers crossed.
At the Northern Planning Summit last Thursday night in Sheffield we ended up discussing what would you chose not to pitch for as an agency?, which encompassed wider issues like are they flogging booze/sub-prime finance/fags/politics (delete according to where you draw the line) and are they likely to turn into the client from hell?
Which made me think alot about Pitching on the drive home. I must easily spend half my time at work on New Business and it seems to me that agencies are increasingly dancing to the client’s tune and agreeing to pitch for accounts or even short-term projects where the odds are what bookmakers would euphemistically refer to as “a long shot”.
It would take a very brave agency MD to make a stand and refuse to pitch for anything, but perhaps if we were all a bit more bolshy and treated the pitch process as more of a two-way interview, we might end up only actually full-blown pitching for those accounts which we were sure that client and agency were a good match – and therefore more likely to produce a successful pitch outcome.
Having got down to the last two from a gazillion agencies for The Pitch and getting through four full-on client pitch meetings at the other end of the country, we didn’t get it. Client decided to stay with the incumbent. WILL YOU PLEASE MAKE YOUR MINDS UP PEOPLE!
I watched The Departed last night (spoiler follows). Couldn’t they have thought of a few more imaginative ways of killing everyone off than just blowing their brains out? In fact, was it absolutely essential to the story to kill all but one of the characters off?
The Joseph/any dream will do consipracy theory continues. I realised last night that I’ve seen Daniel Boys from the program somewhere before – playing the lead role in Rent when I went to see it a few years ago. I’m not sure how playing the lead in a west end show qualifies him to enter a unknown-and-desperate-to-play-the-lead-in-a-west-end-show competition, but there you go…
I have to go and look around pet stores (detouring via the puppies and kittens) this afternoon, so its not all bad. Rants over, normal service resumes tomorrow.