10 assumptions designers often make about pitching

Trainer and coach John Scarrott turns his attention to effective pitching in the latest chapter of his assumptions series.


Assumptions are like gravity. They keep you grounded. However, if you’re trying to take off, they’re not so useful. When you pitch you carry a host of assumptions that can get in your way.

Take a look at these 10 and see if you hold any of them. If you want to change how you pitch, the answer sits within your assumption.

Assumption #1: “We should be different to how we are, to win the pitch.” If you need to be very different to how you are to win the pitch, are you really in the right room to start with? If you’re not, winning the pitch will be just the start of yours and your clients problems. If you find yourself having to painfully shape-shift from one pitch to the next, you might want to stop and ask ‘where are the clients that we would suit and would suit us?’

Assumption #2: “We can’t challenge the client’s pitch process. We just have to follow it.” Who says so? Constructive challenge comes high on client expectations from their design consultancy. Why not start as you mean to go on? And what if you knew a better way for your client to buy design? A way that would get a better outcome for your client. And make it easier for them to assess not just you, but every consultancy on their list. You’re harming them by not sharing it, aren’t you?

Assumption #3: “A pitch must involve doing the work we want to win.” Ask yourself, must it? Why? According to What Clients Think 2017 (WCT2017) clients believe most agencies will hit the mark creatively. So, if you’re invited in to pitch, it’s likely you’ve already answered that question. So what question could you answer instead? How about showing them how you can do that for them? Explain what you’ll be like to work with. Use your thinking to demonstrate that you ‘get’ them. Turn the pitch into a conversation rather than a show and tell.

Assumption #4: “The studio is not very busy so doing creative for a pitch makes sense.” What else could your people be doing that would add value to them and to your business? And what is the effect on your people when you ask them to work on a creative pitch that they don’t win?

Assumption #5: “We don’t always do a creative pitch. We’re selective.” What are you telling yourself here? On what basis are you selecting? And is your basis consistent and visible? Can you explain it to your team? And of the pitches you’ve gone for this year, how many have you won? And how many of those involved creative? The stats and evidence will tell you all you need to know.

Assumption #6: “Clients expect to see original creative ideas.” Do they? And even if they do, what do you think? Decide on what you believe and then be ready to explain it. You have choice. You just need to create it. Imagine you knew the right way to buy design and could explain it. What would that sound like?

Assumption #7: “If we don’t do original creative we won’t have a chance of winning the work.” According to WCT2017 the top 2 reasons that clients give for choosing an agency are: ‘we can work well with them’ and ‘they get it.’ Creative comes third. It also comes third in their expectations from their current agency. Consider how you could use your pitch time to demonstrate the qualities that clients most value.

Assumption #8: “We like the thrill of a pitch.” It is exciting, going for new work. What if you could increase certainty and keep the thrill? Show your client how you’ll create the ideas, show them ideas you’ve created before. And point to the return on investment from them. If that’s not thrilling for you, consider how you can rediscover your excitement about your own creative process and the impact that you create.

Assumption #9: “ We can’t not pitch creative because everyone else is/someone else might.” So what? Are you creating what everyone else is creating? So why do business like everyone else is doing business? Even if it were true. There are actually many design businesses that don’t free pitch.

Assumption #10: “We’re a start-up so we have to free pitch because we haven’t got any case studies to show.” What else can you use to show your capability? What do you think about your client, their sector? Why do they need your expertise? Why does that matter? Where can you have an impact with your thinking? How would you organise the project? Think about everything apart from the creative.

John Scarrott is a Trainer and Coach working with design professionals on their approach to influential communication. Find him on Twitter @JohnDScarrott or check out his website where you can find other useful articles on this subject: http://johnscarrott.com/blog/

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  • ray October 9, 2017 at 2:19 am

    assumption #11 : Don’t assume!
    : Don’t assume that the client is genuinely open to a new agency
    : Don’t assume everything is in the brief.
    : Don’t assume all they want is to see creative visuals.
    : Don’t assume fairness if 20 agencies are randomly invited.
    : Don’t assume those present in the presentation have read the brief.
    All said and done every pitch adds to the experience and thrill of the business. Remember, pitching is not the only way to get business. There are clients who seek “popularity” and “power” like being a judge in a talent contest. There was one who had their existing media agency/ broadcast partner sit in the presentation , so imagine how fair can this be.

  • Duncan October 10, 2017 at 8:56 am

    You shouldn’t be assuming anything in a pitch that’s why you have chemistry and tissue meetings. All this sounds like observations to me rath than practical advice for the designer during a pitch.

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