How to lose pitches

Trainer and coach John Scarrott has spoken to clients to find out about all of the things that will get you kicked out of a pitch and stop you landing work.

How do you persuade a client to reject you as their agency? Do you find it relatively straightforward? Or do you struggle with it and find yourself winning pitch after pitch. I spoke with a number of clients about what helps them to not choose an agency. If you’d like to win less business, the following six ways to lose a pitch could be just what you need:

  • Mystify: Place your emphasis on the creative process. Take the basic principles and then re-describe them and add a TM and a name. Design is not complex enough. It requires more complexity. The more smoke and mirrors the better.
  • Play hide and seek: Disguise yourself. For example, when concerns are expressed about the size of your agency in relation to the job, resort to justification and persuasion of your ability to do the job.
  • Use names to sell: “We’ve worked for Coca Cola, etc”. Don’t mention that the team has changed completely since then. On both sides.
  • No need to ‘live it’: Don’t ever take your own advice. Talk about brand building but don’t show how you’ve built your brand. Talk about innovation, but no pressure to show when you’ve innovated for yourselves. Emphasise ‘segmenting your audience’ but never mind whether you’ve done it.
  • Ask the wrong questions: Ask the client if they have a brief. Go in with the mindset of ‘we can design your……’. Avoid thinking bigger to make sure you miss the bigger picture.
  • Expect to be liked and understood: Be immersed in your own world. Fail to show you understand your client and wait for them to understand you.

So how do you rate? Are these your techniques for losing pitches? Can you add to this list? What else would you say loses you work? For some ideas on the opposite side of the coin, you may find my top tips piece useful.

All of the clients I spoke to agreed that the power of design is amazing. But they also said that their experience of being sold design is not. In a competitive market with opportunities and threats, this is a wake-up call. It’s time to move on. Some already have. Far more could. The future belongs to those that will.

Thanks to the clients I spoke with for taking the time to talk with me and share their viewpoints.

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 articles on the area of influential communication.

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  • ian fogden January 14, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Dear Mr Scarrott, This is very instructive 6 points to loose a pitch but how would you or your clients place in order of priority the 6 points to win a pitch…. Best Ian Fogden

    • John Scarrott January 15, 2018 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Ian (please call me John by the way) a good question. My instinctive response is to say do the ‘opposite’ of each of the 6 points to lose a pitch. However, that looks somewhat trite as I read it. I will write a follow up piece that suggests some options for what the opposite could look like. I’d be interested to hear your ideas though. What works for you (to lose and win?)

  • Martin Nixon January 19, 2018 at 1:58 pm

    Very interesting article John, and I really enjoyed your reversal of the typical ‘how to’ approach. Of course, the word ‘pitch’ to many of us will have a different meaning. You refer I think to a credential’s pitch and not the horror of the ‘free pitch’. Of course all law-abiding DBA members will shiver at the very idea, yet if my understanding is correct the latter is still very much alive and often integral element of typical agency selection process. I’d love you to consider writing another article on ‘how to win’ a free pitch process, not that we partake!

    • John Scarrott January 22, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      I was thinking broadly of any meeting where the outcome could be that a client and agency decide to work together. It’s not so much a reversal of the how to as an uncovering of a how to lose the opportunity to work together. My thinking is that all of our actions come from our beliefs. So when we lose a pitch, we are acting on beliefs that support us in some way. So when we lose a pitch we do this, it doesn’t happen to us. We can get pretty good at it and it can have positive returns for us as well as the obvious negative. The same goes for free pitching. Change comes when we can loosen our grip on whatever belief is holding us just enough to start to form another more useful one, that maintains the integrity of the first one in some way.

  • Richard July 13, 2018 at 9:02 am

    As an independent designer I regularly find myself pitching against agencies and regularly losing – no surprises there, however – one thing that works in my favour is being very clear about handover and the politics of dealing with internal creative teams, in particular digital – at some point I will need to hand over (I mostly work in branding) and I am really clear about when and how that works and don’t try to compete with internal design managers – I’m there to help them. Clients often tell me that agencies ‘over-offer’ to win pitches and never come through. Also – most agencies go to huge efforts to win pitches and then lose interest – clients know when they have been pushed down the ‘to do’ list as soon as a pitch is won.

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