Pitch perfection

New Year. New business? Old topic – pitching. I have pitched, successfully and unsuccessfully. I have invited pitches from companies in disciplines other than my own…

New Year. New business? Old topic – pitching. I have pitched, successfully and unsuccessfully. I have invited pitches from companies in disciplines other than my own. I have also acted as a sort of UN observer at a multinational client pitch fest.

What have I learned? Two key lessons – for, respectively, the contestant and the client. First, you win even when you lose. Treat the exercise professionally and you gain invaluable experience. Good work is never wasted. The way the team tackles the project, in possibly an unfamiliar product category, may provide a lasting legacy. Your reputation may be enhanced and spread. And (who knows?) the client may return, perhaps wearing a different hat.

The second lesson is reflected in the headline of Adam White’s article ‘Treat groups with respect’. They may not go out of their way to be disrespectful: they just don’t apply sufficient rigour to the pitching process. They don’t treat the process with respect.

This is particularly the case with free pitches which can breed a lack of professionalism. ‘We’re doing it for nothing so we can’t spend too much time.’ ‘They did it for nothing so what can you expect?’

However, pitches which do not involve creative end product are mostly unpaid (and both parties seem happy with that). But a client still needs to take them seriously. This means deciding what it needs to discover about the competing groups, what it wants them to demonstrate by answering the brief. Demonstrate rather than talk.

I trust White will understand if I use some of his advice in a ten-point sequence for any client embarking on a pitch process.

• Make preliminary enquiries. Access websites. Contact a few groups. Explain you are compiling a shortlist of three.
• Draw up the shortlist. Ensure that each knows they are one of three, that the best response to the brief will win, and that the brief to each is identical.
• Inform each group that it will be required to make a presentation and provide a short document.
• Ask for the names and roles of the team who will participate at the presentation. Ditto the team who will work on the account.

• Explicitly inform the shortlist that creative work is not being asked for. Explain, however, that how the brief is answered will affect your decision. • Define the strategic communications problem and what the eventual creative solution (design, advertising, rebranding, whatever) is meant to achieve. Make sure the brief is clear and unambiguous, full but not overflowing. Ask each group how it would tackle the problem and, most importantly, distil the strategic communications problem into a succinct and insightful internal creative brief (that is, a brief to their creative team).

• Provide supplementary basic marketing background.
• Provide a timetable up to and following appointment.
• Level with all three contestants about the pre-determined criteria by which they will be judged. For example, the quality of their thinking; their appreciation of the market; their understanding of the brief and its implications; the relevance of their previous experience; and the personal chemistry (can you work with them?).
• Judge. Decide. And be prepared to tell the losers why they didn’t win.



David Bernstein

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