Ben and David - Brand Edge

Points of view and updates

Pitching – A view from both sides


We’re currently running an ATL pitch for a client.

In our careers we been involved in over 250 pitches across all sorts of sectors and sizes of client, and we’ve seen the pitch process up close from both sides of the fence.

Here are some observations.

The Easy wins
  • A tight team
Identifying who will be in front of the prospective client on pitch day should be the very first thing the agency works out. Sure there will be supporting roles, but its crap for everyone to leave the final pitch team line up until “nearer the time when we know what workloads are like”.

In our view, a winning pitch team is like the SAS…a small number of individuals (no more than 4), all highly capable in their own right but importantly able to work together like a well-oiled machine…

…everyone knows their role, knows what’s expected of them personally and has absolute clarity on how to best interface with the other team members to achieve the collective objectives.

We’ve seen death by numbers many times, with agencies taking the misguided view that somehow involving more and more people will mean more chance of winning. (Expensive) madness!

And beware of…
“I’ve just brought in Julian to act as Devil’s Advocate. He knows the sector really well and with 2 days to go we need to make sure we’ve got it right”.

This never has a good outcome and everyone, (including Julian) will end up thinking he’s a tosser.
  • Speak the language of the client
This is particularly for the planners and strategists.

Clarity beats cleverness every time.

Don’t focus on demonstrating how clever you are…most clients are pretty straight forward people.

Shakespearean prose and unusually rare words frustrate clients and serve only to put distance between the pitch team and client.

So gauge where the client is on this spectrum and deliver accordingly.

In 1878, Benjamin Disraeli's described his rival William Gladstone:
“A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself”.

Exactly!
  • Be aware of (and respond to) body language
It’s important to maintain flexibility during the actual pitch itself. If a client is clearly stifling a yawn in the middle of yet another planning monologue, have a signal that’s basically “Wrap it up, you’re boring the arse off everyone, including yourself”.

So work out in advance where you can cut to the chase if needed.

  • Learn from failure & stay in touch
If you do lose, it’s important to have a dispassionate, objective review of why you lost without beating yourselves up.

Tricky one this as some clients will chicken out and just say “we preferred someone else's creative”.

But working out how to improve the process is always a worthwhile exercise. And “You came a close second” may seem like a fob-off but we’ve seen more than a few instances where an agency that genuinely was a close second ended up with more work from the client than the pitch winner.

Either they impressed and were awarded other projects or the clients came back to them as the winner’s “pitch magic” turned out to be not that magical after all.

The Cardinal sins
  • Beware of pitch theatre
Close to pitch date, someone will probably say… “what can we do to add a little theatre to this?”.

Arguably this is unnecessary but if you do get into this be very cautious and don’t work with animals.

I worked on 1 pitch where the brand - a well know high street retailer - featured an owl as the logo. One of the partners of the business thought it a great idea, to bring a real life owl into the pitch.

After 20 minutes of sitting contentedly, as the room warmed up the owl decided he needed to stretch his wings and so tried to fly around the room (straight towards the clients).

Fortunately he (I think it was a “he”) was tethered to his perch but the noisy distraction of screeching and scratching talons did little to help the pitch ambience.
  • Agency tour danger
Agencies are always desperate to get potential clients into their offices in the belief that this will seal the deal.

The reality is that most creative agencies look the same to clients and the agency tour is fraught with dangers.

The whole idea of planned spontaneity is particularly difficult to manage. So there’s Jez a mid-weight creative sat as his desk waiting for this new prospect to pass-by. He’s been told to have a few visuals of xx on his desk and talk a little about them if the client stops by.

At best, this is contrived and stilted at worst it’s dangerous as you just never know where this nervous interchange will head. And talking of contrived, we’ve had clients relate stories of how agency “staff” were clearly brought in on the day to make the agency appear bigger, but were rumbled when the same face was introduced as both the production manager and the media buyer.
  • Dressing 2 interviews with receptionist's friends as “insight”
All clients will expect an agency to do some diligence around their category and have an interesting (and supportable) point of view. However, agencies will never know as much as the client does about their category and so dressing up a couple of interviews with the receptionist’s friends as insight is to be avoided at all costs.
  • Going to war with a “yet to be client”
At some point in the pitch process, the client will almost certainly say “We’re looking for an agency that will challenge us”.

But challenge is very different from confrontation. In one pitch we managed, a big London-based agency with a reasonably strong creative record, exemplified how to get it completely wrong.

They mistook challenge for confrontation and at one point pretty much told the client that they were stupid. After their tissue session they informed us… “No, we don’t want a follow up call with the client as we don’t do development briefs”.

Pleased to say that this particular agency didn’t win the pitch and personally, we’d never recommend them for any long list, never mind a short list.

So challenge confidently but in the right way.

And finally, to win a pitch you need both personal chemistry and good content.

We’ve seen pitches won on chemistry alone but never with good content but poor chemistry.

Pitching – A view from both sides
Ben and David - Brand Edge


Where has Doctor Who gone?


A slow Saturday night watching TV with my nieces and nephew. What the blazes has happened to Dr Who? Does anyone in the universe understand what’s going on?

And Peter Capaldi, fine thespian though I’m sure he is, reaffirms my belief that a man over 40 (unless he’s as hard as nails) really shouldn’t be wearing Doctor Martens.

What’s my point?

Well, the producer and writers don’t seem to know who they’re writing for? Thankfully like Roger Moore’s Bond, Dr Who is light years away from the cheap slapstick of Peter Davison but who is it now aimed at? It’s like a bad mash up of Groundhog Day and The Crystal Maze.

Is it just me? I checked viewing figures and even if you add in time shift viewing, the Dr Who trend is dramatically downwards. What’s the answer?

Back to Bond.

The writers and directors know exactly who they’re targeting and where they are going with it. So take note BBC and regenerate Christopher Eccleston, a northern powerhouse of a doctor that you just don’t mess with.

The Daniel Craig of Doctors.


Where has Doctor Who gone?
Ben and David - Brand Edge
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