Pitch perfect: How to win at the industry’s most tortuous process

Winning new businesses and retaining existing clients is essential to an agency’s success, making it no surprise that, at times, converting a pitch into a win can seem like the only thing that matters.

But pitching is a tricky (and expensive) business at the best of times and for anyone working in the agency sector, the process can often become entirely all-consuming.

It’s no easy ride either, with as many as one in ten (11%) agency staff leaving their roles due to the stress of the pitching process.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Speaking to Marketing Beat, The Great Pitch Company founder Marcus Brown – a former agency stalwart for the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi, Y&R, Starcom and Publicis Media – explains how to ace the tortuous process and how agencies can turn as many gears as possible in their favour.

Building blocks of a great pitch

There are myriad different moving parts to ensuring a successful pitch, but for Brown – who is able to look at the issue from outside the agency bubble – there are certain steps agencies can take that will always affect the process positively.

“The most important thing is the emotional connection between the agency and the client,” Brown begins, stressing that clients don’t operate on a purely rational basis and will often be swayed by their emotional response to a pitch.

“Getting to a point where there is an emotional connection is harder than it sounds, but it’s important to understand that decision making is not just rational.

“Clients are human beings driven by instinct, and that plays a far greater role than people give it credit for. Simply answering the pitch brief brilliantly is not a guarantee of success.”

Secondly, Brown spotlights the importance of presentation. Teams must give off positive, confident energy if they want to succeed – a useful trait in any business discipline.

“Happy pitch teams are winning pitch teams, and while I don’t have scientific proof of that, my own experience of hundreds of pitches shows this to be the case.”

Thirdly, Brown notably urges agencies to avoid looking desperate at all costs. It simply isn’t very attractive: “Demonstrate hunger but don’t look desperate. It’s a fine line.”

How to lose pitches and alienate people

No one’s perfect – and sometimes you just can’t win. You definitely can’t win them all, that’s for sure. But there are definitely a few things to avoid if you want to give yourself a fighting chance.

Getting the basics right is vital, so first and foremost, agencies need to be crystal clear in what they are proposing. Failing to do this is never a good augury for success.

“We get our clients to write that out in the form of ‘Fifty words to woo your lover’,” Brown explains.

“This is not the answer to the brief, but it is your promise to the client and tells them why they should choose you.”

Subscribe to Marketing Beat for free

Sign up here to get the latest marketing campaigns sent straight to your inbox each morning

Nailing the storytelling aspect of a brief is also crucial for Brown, who stresses that teams must always remember that the best and most engaging pitches are both informative and entertaining. The Q&A is another part of the process that can trip teams up, with inadequate preparation difficult to hide during a client grill-fest.

“All too often we see a great team fall down when it comes to the questions. When we work with agencies we spend half a day rehearsing teams on Q&A etiquette and strategy.”

Talking money, Brown says agency teams should always ask for a pitch fee, explaining that “whether the client agrees or not, it places a value on the approach. If they agree, it means they have skin in the game too.”

He warns against handing over too much too soon, though, cautioning agencies: “However, let’s be clear, intellectual property should never be given in exchange for a pitch fee.”

The secret to a perfect pitch

So what is the secret to a perfect pitch? And is there even such a thing?

It seems that much of Brown’s advice is rooted in logic, but it obviously isn’t that easy – otherwise every agency would win every account at a canter. The overriding issue seems to be the sheer amount of moving parts which need to be bought into one seamless piece of work.

“There’s no secret to what makes the perfect pitch,” Brown insists.

“Anybody who’s been working in the industry for a number of years will know all of the dozens of factors that contribute to making a pitch a success.

“The trouble is, to influence all of those factors takes enormous effort and when you are in the thick of it, even the most experienced marketers can forget some of the factors that need influencing.”

Some of these factors are simply out of an agency’s control, but one aspect in which they do have more control is the number of times they choose to pitch for an account.

Espousing a ‘less is more’ philosophy, Brown encourages agencies to focus the bulk of their resources more strategically, concentrating on taking on the really important clients that they genuinely believe they can win.

“Agencies can’t help themselves, and typically go for as many opportunities as they can,” he explains.

“As a result – because their resources are spread thinly – they lose the ability to influence all of the dozens of factors needed to win, and consequently lower their chances of winning all of the pitches they have taken on.

“The secret to business development success is to pitch less, in order to win more.”

In short: there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to pitching – the process will likely be arduous each and every time. But by following Brown’s advice, it could be marginally less painful. Maybe even enjoyable?

So if an agency is to have any chance of success, it must never forget the basics, must always tell a good story and – most importantly of all – it must remember that less is nearly always more.

Best in ClassFeaturesMarketing StrategyNewsWhy it Works

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.