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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Pitch theatre and winning new business

I was interested to read Dave Trotts blog on pitching (Harry's Game) the other week in which he provides a couple of great examples of how to beat the competition. Whether you think the tactics are ethical or not, there's no doubt that in a market as competitive as advertising you need to use every trick in the book if your agency is going to get noticed and ultimately take the business away from more established competition.

Texas Joe's awesome pitch on Dragons Den
There are lots of factors which affect pitch success but there are 4 basic principles that I always consider. One, your agency has got to get on the clients radar or nothing happens. Two, your agency proposition has got to significantly differentiate you from everyone else, which means you need to know your competition. Three, your idea and strategic rationale has got to be impactful, challenging and relevant. Four, the way the idea and strategy is presented (before, during and after the pitch) should leave a lasting impression on your audience.

Once you're on the radar (I'll address this in another post), achieving points 2, 3 & 4 can be difficult if you're given 2 or 3 weeks to pull it together. The biggest challenge is balancing the time you allocate to discovery, insights, strategy and creative brief writing, versus time allocated to creative, as well as leaving enough time to finesse the 'presentation' and practice selling it in. This is made even more difficult if you are pitching in a category which you have no prior experience in - research and planning is likely to take longer than usual. Having a pitch process and task schedule to follow helps to keep your team focussed and on track.

What I have learnt over the years is that you need a strong pitch team leader with the authority and knowledge to call time on each stage of the process. Planners won't like me saying this but ideally you want the planning phase to be completed as quickly as possible, with the end result being a simple brief that summarises the commercial and creative objectives, and provides the necessary insights to inspire great work. This leaves the creative team with enough time to develop and craft their ideas into a state that can be successfully presented.

Unfortunately each contributing team (account handling, planning and creative) will view their bit as equally if not more important and will fight for the maximum amount of time possible. This is why you need to form a pitch group that works together on a consistent basis and understands and appreciates the contribution each team makes to the final product. It is all about collaboration, keeping sight of the end goal and good project management.

The common mistake most agencies make is trying to do too much in too little time. The result is lots of average work. Quality over quantity must always be the rule because without at least one great idea you have nothing to sell. If the idea is strong enough and flexible enough there is no need to execute it across every conceivable media. The client should get it instantly and already be thinking about how they would execute the campaign before you even get to presenting the comms and media plan.

Finally, I think we need to get back to what agencies do best and that's being creative. Most agencies have fallen into the trap of presenting ideas in the same old slideshow format. This may be fine for more conservative clients but even stuffy old FS brands are now demanding something "a bit different". The Texas Joe Beef Jerky pitch on Dragons Den is one of my favourite examples of pitch theatre and it demonstrates the difference creativity can make.