July 17, 2019

by Mark Duval - The Duval Partnership

This week, I’ve rounded up six valuable tips on pitching from agency insiders. Some come from industry experts who have previously shared their expertise on The New Business Blog and some were sourced from other online sources. All of them will help you win your next pitch. As we approach the time of year when major decisions will be made for next year’s marketing budgets, take a look and think about opportunities to improve your “pitch game.”

Ken Robinson, Founding Principal of agency search specialists Ark Advisors

Don’t pass off the work of other agencies—or even other offices within your agency—as your own.

“Part of our job is to make sure that there is no obfuscation of where work was produced, and whether the people who produced the work are still even working at the agency. We've seen agencies in New York present work that was developed by their Los Angeles office and passing it off as “agency work.” It is our job is to say, “Excuse me, client, we just want you to know that the work that you just saw—which you love— is not managed out of this office. There was nobody who worked on that campaign that will work on your account.”

What is allowable? Ken says, “on the other hand, if you are the chief creative officer of an agency that you joined three months ago from another agency where you were chief creative officer or executive creative director, you can legitimately show that work when you clearly present it as, “When I was at agency X, these are the campaigns that I led.” That is a fair thing to do because you're being honest and transparent and forthright. People don't start their careers the minute they start in a new agency. They have a career path, and experience, and successes that they can legitimately talk about and present to the room as long as it is really clear.”

Chris Shumaker, former CMO of The Martin Agency, FCB Worldwide, Publicis USA, and Grey NA

Bring the best work, but plan to win even without the winning work.

“My pitch strategy was to plan to win without the work, with the operative word being ‘plan.’ My job was to put the team in a position to win without relying 100% on the work. One aspect of how I think of pitch strategy is to divide the pitch team into two sub-teams: a Content Team, and a Competition Team. The Content Team is exactly that—they'll focus on the content, the brief, the client’s audience, the deliverables for the meeting, the strategy—everything that you would expect an agency to do.

“But while the Content Team is doing their job, the Competition Team is thinking about all the variables of the competition — our client audience, our competition, our brand, and our flawless execution at every touchpoint. This team studies the decision makers, the influencers, the competitive agencies, and how to neutralize their case studies and experience. The real reason for the review and how to leverage that insight to separate from the pack. The review process itself and how to make relevant contact along the journey. These are the people who think strategically about the competition and every single touchpoint along the way.

“You have to put yourself in a position where you're not dependent on one meeting to win it or lose it. That's very important. That’s what I mean by planning to win without the winning work. I believe if you put 100% of your chips on the final creative work presented, you are playing high stakes poker and I personally don’t like those odds. I like trying to bring the best work while planning to win without the best work, hence the two team strategy.”

Laurie Coots, Director of Agency Growth Strategy at Mirren

Don’t talk about differentiation. Be different.

In a post about when to break a few rules of the pitch, Laurie shares a valuable insight that aligns with Chris Shumaker’s strategy of winning the pitch long before the actual pitch, at every step in the process.

“Take a page out of the playbook we used during my time as CMO of TBWA\ Worldwide. Use a tour of the agency space to tell the story of a couple of relevant case histories. Introduce key team members and department heads in situ, eliminating the need to fill the conference room with people. Visit environments in which teams are actually collaborating. And then bring them into the perfect room to discuss their business. We usually built out a “war room” of sorts, creating an unplugged version of our interrogation of their business on the walls around the room. The environment stimulated discussion, and they immediately began to ask questions and to share.

“In the end, we would get 2 hours or more of engagement, direction and answers that the other agencies didn’t get, and the client left whistling the Sesame Street song, ‘One of These Things is Not Like The Others.’”

Lisa Colantuono, President, AAR Partners

Don’t settle for a vague RFI. If you want to work on the brand, stop guessing, and ask for more information.

What’s worse than wasting your agency’s valuable time on a vague and poorly-run pitch process? In a post about the flawed pitch processes and the ID Comms/4A’s study, Lisa offers useful advice about what you can do to overcome the shortcomings of a flawed pitch process (and strengthen your agency’s position):

“If the RFI from the client is vague, but you’re interested in working on the brand then stop guessing and start gathering. Turn it around and develop a direct but concise list of questions that requests FURTHER information from the client. Ask them some key questions, such as:

  • What are your key marcom goals and objectives within the next 12 months?
  • What are the major business issues that you currently face?
  • What is the one primary problem that keeps you up at night?
  • Describe a successful client-agency relationship?”

Meghan McDonnell, President, Pile and Company

Don’t make a big idea look too small by over-focusing on a lot of executions.

In a post about tips for presenting creative in a pitch, Meghan shared a valuable insight based on her experience:

“Focus on the insights that led to your tactics, explaining how they address the brand’s business and communications challenges. In a pitch environment, assume you’re dealing with a sophisticated marketer. A few examples are enough. A million examples will make your presentation feel overly tactical and your thinking, small.

Explore more than one creative direction. This used to be the norm. Agencies would come to pitches with two to three different concepts. Some still do. But many are putting their eggs all in one creative basket and then stuffing that basket with tons of executions.”

Darren Woolley, TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, with Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham, Group Marketing Director for WPP AUNZ

Focus on story and substance over length and dry details—and don’t fill the full time allotted unless you need to.

In a write-up of his Managing Marketing podcast featuring Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham as a guest, Darren Woolley addresses the media agency pitch process and where agencies and clients get it right...and not. As the conversation turns to media agencies’ reputation for giving dry pitches that are bogged down with details, they share some ways to avoid falling into that trap.

Greg: “I’d always have a strategy. They’d say, ‘Sparrow, you’ve got 10 minutes’, but I knew it would be three so I’d get to the story, the sizzle reel or the ideas coming to life. I knew that I’d get to those quickly. There was no preamble; you had to just jump in and you want it to be memorable too, right?”

Darren: “Now you’ve got two hours.”

Greg: “Sometimes more.”

Darren: “So, how do you fill that without reverting to the Excel spreadsheet that shows by picking non-peak dayparts we can reduce your CPM by…?”

Greg: “I think that’s the trap. If someone gives you 3 hours, the normal thing is, you would fill 3 hours. I don’t think you need to fill the 3 hours. It’s what’s your story? What’s the benefit? What’s the value and what are you delivering on the business? And if that doesn’t need 3 hours then so be it. You can just make it more interactive—how you engage the client in a separate conversation around what more could you do or what’s the real brief. What’s the thinking behind the brief? What’s the real goal? Sometimes just listening to the client and asking those open questions.”

Recap

Here are our six can’t-miss tips from agency insiders:

  •     Don’t pass off the work of other agencies—or even other offices within your agency—as your own.
  •     Bring the best work, but plan to win even without the winning work.
  •     Don’t talk about differentiation. Be different.
  •     Don’t settle for a vague RFI. If you want to work on the brand, stop guessing, and ask for more information.
  •     Don’t make a big idea look too small by over-focusing on a lot of executions.
  •     Focus on story and substance over length and dry details—and don’t fill the full time allotted unless you need to.

How can you improve your next pitch?

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