Prepare for the perfect pitch

 11 February 2012

Is there such a thing as the 'perfect' pitch'? Ian Winterbottom, partner at Our Agency, gives 6 fundamentals for pitching to clients.

Ian Winterbottom, partner at Our Agency,explains how honesty and research are key fundamentals when pitching to clients.
Ian Winterbottom, partner at Our Agency,explains how honesty and research are key fundamentals when pitching to clients.

In my experience no two pitches are exactly the same. What may work with one client, if repeated verbatim, may have disastrous results for another. All clients are individuals with unique requirements.

However, there are certain fundamentals to pitching. Paying attention to these has served me well for the past 25 years.

1. Relationships

At the risk of stating the obvious, relationships are the key to winning a pitch.

A client deserves value for money and they are paying for your expertise.

But you would be surprised at the alarming number of agencies who don’t invest in really getting to know their clients. Whilst initial meetings and socialising may be non-chargeable, this time can be invaluable in the long run.

Other clichés, if I dare to mention, are trust and respect. If a client likes you, respects your values and trusts your judgement, anything you present has attached to it a degree of foregone approval.

I’m not advocating a sycophantic friendliness, driven only by the bottom line. I’m suggesting that the price of a coffee now and then, might be worth the investment, both personally and professionally.

2. Honesty

There’s another word that’s used liberally in our world, yet rarely with any sincerity.

A client deserves value for money and they are paying for your expertise. So allow them to exploit it to the full.

If you’ve invested in some of the groundwork above, you’ll be able to have a healthy, two-way exchange in which the client receives an honest and impartial opinion. Something they may not get from inside their organisation.

3. Research

The cornerstone of your presentation: never underestimate the power of a well-researched pitch.

It’s your duty to challenge the brief in order to understand the objectives and therefore deliver the solution. You must also have a full appreciation of the target audience, the marketplace, the competition and any key business drivers.

However well you think you know your client, never take anything for granted. Clients can often be ambiguous and overestimate their perceived audience takeout. Make sure your understanding of the brief is in tandem with the client’s.

That blank look to one of your colleagues of 'weren’t you supposed to speak now?' will do nothing for your credibility.

This sounds obvious but sometimes interpretations and expectations can differ. Talk to them whenever possible.

Insist that, if you are to give the brief its due consideration, then a telephone call to establish clarification is the minimum requirement. I cannot stress enough how important it is for both parties to achieve synergy at this stage.

After completing the forest worth of paperwork required by the procurement department, try and get to talk the pitch panel to get a feel for their agenda.

Remember: when it comes to local government pitches, there can be any number of people sat on the panel and be prepared for your hard work to be analysed by the same procurement person who chose the company providing school dinners or the cherry pickers for street lighting maintenance.

4. Timing

We’ve all been here, preparing everything at the last minute and leaving no time for a run-through.

The run-through is vital, even though you can’t forecast for every eventuality it’s important to know exactly what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it and who’s going to say what. That blank look to one of your colleagues of 'weren’t you supposed to speak now?' will do nothing for your credibility.

Keep your presentation on track and if you’re presenting creative work make sure you have plenty of mood boards, visuals, samples and mock-ups – try to create a sense of drama if the opportunity exists.

Only ever use PowerPoint to support your creative if you’re presenting show reels, interactive visuals or if you are presenting to a large audience. No one likes 'Death by PowerPoint'.

5. Presentation day

Never ever be late. There are no excuses – if you can’t turn up at the allotted time, you’re going to start off on the back foot.

There are few occupations where you put so much of your energy and personality into the work.

Always establish who’s going to be at the pitch and don’t be surprised if there are more bodies on the day. Clients have a habit of changing their minds and inviting 'surprise guests'.

Let the client know who is attending on your behalf and unless recently deceased make sure they attend. Nothing looks worse than explaining that "Dominic had something else to do". From the client's point of view, there may be nothing more important than them and their pitch.

Remember: if their big guns are attending send your big guns. CEOs, nice though they can be, won’t take kindly to meeting the junior designer because the creative director was too busy. If it’s important to them, it should be important to you.

Finally, if given an allotted time in which to make the pitch, make sure you stay within it. (The run-through should have ironed out timings) and leave room for questions at the end.

6. The one that got away...

“Unfortunately on this occasion...” is the customary line in those letting you down gently letters/emails you receive when you haven’t been successful.

Remember creative is very subjective. But, as there are very few occupations where you put so much of your energy and personality into the work, the cursory 'I don’t like that' comment is meaningless.

If the creative hasn’t met the brief, isn’t on-brand, won’t attract the right audience, that’s fine. But you need to know, whatever the outcome.

You can’t please everyone all the time, but a clear understanding of why you weren’t successful is paramount. Make sure you ask for a post-pitch meeting or at least an email with a full and frank explanation.

While this might bruise some over inflated egos, if you want to be successful understanding where you went wrong, it is the only way learn how to do it better or differently next time.

Happy pitching.

 

© Our Agency


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