“I threw coffee all over the client” – what’s your worst pitch experience?

Designers tell us their tales of pitches gone wrong – including a client who was showered with coffee and biscuits and one who turned “a horrid shade of red and exploded”…

John Bateson, founder Bateson Studio and associate lecturer for MA graphic branding and identity at London College of Communication.
John Bateson, founder Bateson Studio

“Landing safely in Germany with the pitch work mysteriously landing safely in Lyon.

A last-minute accident in the lavatory with a low-level pump soap dispenser – you – can’t be taken seriously with a frothy and bubbling crotch.

Presenting the issues and problems of the project so meticulously and enthusiastically and at such great length it brought the project to a complete halt there and then.

Gesturing with such an eager and, I thought, wildly creative flourish I threw coffee and biscuits all over the client.

But the damning with faint praise was the one that hurt the most: “Well John thank you, we liked your presentation, but it felt somewhat lacklustre ”. I cried all the way home.”

Mike Dempsey, founder Studio Dempsey
Mike Dempsey, founder Studio Dempsey

“I never ‘pitch’, only present – and never for free. In the summer of 1994, I along with my then partners, Ken Carroll and Nicholas Thirkell, presented our design for a new broadsheet newspaper called The Independent to the editor Andreas Whittam Smith. Even though the paper had the potential of a full colour reproduction, we recommended black and white. As Whittam Smith looked at our dummy, there was an ominous silence. He turned a horrid shade of red and exploded, making it clear that he hated what we had done. We left deflated and disheartened, having worked around the clock. However the very next day, their political cartoonist Nicholas Garland phoned to tell us that everyone else liked it and Whittam Smith had changed his view. The Independent went on to win the first BBC Design Award.”

Alan Dye, designer and director, NB Studio
Alan Dye, designer and director, NB Studio

“The client walked out… We won the pitch for a financial pension company that had come up with a ‘new way of talking pensions’ – really? It was quite complicated to carry out the audit and understand what they actually did. We were working on visual imagery and tone of voice etc and were half through the presentation when the client turned on her high heels and left.”

John Owens, creative director, Instruct
John Owens, creative director, Instruct

“We were asked once to critique a campaign from the client pre-pitch that we thought was odd. Our constructive dissection right down to its failure to even have a basic call to action didn’t go down too well – so much so that we faced the wrath of a now standing commissioner and her claims of how many awards it had won and been a roaring success. We then had to pitch our ideas for an hour to effectively a raging brick wall. Awkward.”

Paul Middlebrook, managing director, The Allotment
Paul Middlebrook, managing director, The Allotment

We generally enjoy the pitch process – it’s challenging and of course the competitive nature of the process often provides an extra motivation.

Our worst pitch situation recently was where we pitched for months to do an identity project – we won and then the CEO decided to give the project to someone else on a whim. The work ended up being weak and meaningless. Bitter… not really!”

What’s your worst pitch experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

Hide Comments (6)Show Comments (6)
  • Alice Ralph August 5, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    I don’t have any as interesting as these… Although one of my clients do large sales presentations as part of their business. My client once told me that she nipped into the bathroom before a presentation to fix her make-up in the mirror, and used a spare pare of knickers that she had in her handbag to hold her hair out the way. Obviously she completely forgot and then went and presented to a room of 300 people with a pair of pants on her head. Can’t beat that.

  • Jean Grogan August 6, 2015 at 10:11 am

    We travelled from Paris to New Zealand to present our pitch. The clients flew from Australia – a comparative hop. After travelling for 26 hours we arrived to present on a Sunday morning, bang on time, to find ourselves locked out of the office. When our potential clients arrived (3 hours late) with the keys, we were lead to a presentation room with dirty cups & dishes all over the table that had been sitting there since Friday. My (female) boss & I prepared the ground for our presentation by clearing away dirty dishes while our male clients looked on helplessly. We actually won the pitch, but it was probably out of guilt-pity on their parts.

  • Kevin McDermott August 6, 2015 at 10:12 am

    I’ve definitely knocked a few glasses of water over in my time with overly expressive gestures – then always try to convince myself that it will help the client remember me (even if only as the klutz who covered them in Highland Spring!). Pitch presentations can be one of the most frustrating experiences you can have as a designer though, you are often dealing with a room full of people who don’t want to make any comment in order to avoid indicating a preference (or otherwise) for your work and as such can be quite a one-sided scenario. Then there is the agonising wait for a decision, with rarely any satisfying feedback if the decision goes against you!

  • Paul Bailey August 6, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Great stories. I’ll add mine to the mix.

    Around 15 years ago I was presenting poster design concepts to a film client (who will remain nameless). In these days we printed the designs and mounted them onto 5mm mount board. On presenting the A3, 5mm thick, posters our design approaches didn’t go down too well. So much so that in the hands of the client the 5mm thick posters became lethal weapons as they launched them across the room, nearly taking peoples heads off whilst shouting SH*T at the point of throwing each one. Who says film people are dramatic 🙂

    To our credit, after they had launched all of our designs across the room, we calmly sat their and asked them to expand on what they didn’t like about the designs. We got some more (but this time constructive) feedback, went away and did some new designs. One of the new designs ended up becoming the film poster.

    I won’t divulge what the film or who the client was.

  • Andy Barker August 6, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Naming no names… we had decided the pitch wasn’t creative so I had no work to show. Imagine my awkwardness when my colleague turned to me and said “And now Andy will show you some ideas”. Oops!

  • Sebastian Conran August 15, 2015 at 8:45 am

    my worst pitch was to Villeroy & boch in Germany. Our taxi cab – a brand new Mecedes – got carjacked as we were unloading at City airport, I had my hand on my laptop bag in the boot just as the car sped off. My colleagues were not so lucky as their possessions, presentation and passports vanished into the distance. The poor driver was mortified, and will probably never leave keys in the ignition again.

  • Post a comment

Latest articles