Open minds make for better pitches

I run a lot of advertising pitches for clients these days. It make a nice change, I can’t count the times I have stood up to pitch ideas myself. I’ve always really enjoyed it, and I’ve sucked up the stress.LeftBrainRightBrain

Receiving pitches creates another anxiety – making the right choice for the brand. That may sound obvious. But it is hard to judge pitches with certainty, especially if you set them up wrong.

A bad pitch request usually comprises some or all of the following factors

  1. The pitch audience is poorly chosen, involving company people who are not actively engaged with the brand.
  2. The pitch brief is too broad. I mean this in two ways. Firstly that the client has not put enough effort into focusing on the task (signalled by weak target audience definition and brand proposition). Secondly that the pitch asks too much from Agencies – strategy, ideation, channel plans, investment, and the kitchen sink.
  3. There’s not enough time. Marketers sometimes fail to win timely internal consensus on the pitch, and often leave the brief to the last minute.
  4. There are are too many Agencies on the shortlist to make it anything other than a long list.

In my long experience, more than 60% of pitch opportunities have been bad pitches. This is something of an indictment for marketers, charged with custodianship of the brand and permitted to invest significant funds to promote it.

If your pitch is poorly set up, you and your colleagues will have the Devil’s own job making the right decision for your brand. Let’s imagine you set ten judging criteria and apply them to five Agency presentations.  That gives your team fifty variables to assimilate. Without the added complication of Joab from Accounts falling into a deep post-prandial sleep during the fourth pitch.

The following are the principal criteria I encourage clients to use on pitch day:

  1. Agency team
  • Do they present well as a team?
  • Does their track record impress us?
  • Do we feel we would enjoy working with them?
  1. Category understanding
  • How aware are they of practices in our category?
  • Do they have enough category experience to understand how to disrupt it?
  1. Consumer understanding
  • How well have they brought the target market to life?
  • Have they added value to our understanding of the target market?
  1. Creative product
  • Is their approach to creative work logical and well thought through?
  • Does their creative work grab our attention? Does it seem relevant to our target audience?
  1. Pricing
  • How competitive is their pricing? Do their terms offer us any advantages?
  1. Added value
  • Have they impressed us with any added value in terms of capability, service or financial benefits?

Having standard criteria also helps you to cope with surprises. Last month we pitched a request for a new brand name and visual identity for an energy company. Time was quite tight, so we reduced our pitch requirements and  the number of Agencies invited to present. The brief was the output of a rigorous brand strategy session.Agency One came in and quite frankly bored us to death with their methodology, and with the fraught process they had undertaken to produce name and logo options. Only one person in the team spoke, the others wasted our coffee and biscuits. Their approach was left-brain heavy – by which I mean their logic was relentless. By the time they came to show us their creative work we were so demoralised we could only sympathise with them.

Agency Two came in and presented strongly. A nice balanced team with no one person hogging the limelight. Strategy was sound. Creative was interesting. Q and A was well handled. A well-balanced left and right brain pitch.

Then, half an hour late for their slot and with no apologies for the delay, in rolled Agency Three. They began by asking us to sign a disclaimer, saying we would not appropriate their ideas without paying them. Sensible measure, but dreadful timing! You can just imagine what that did to the atmosphere in the room.

Anyway, we all pressed on together and they began by discussing how colours affect moods. They continued in an exclusively right brain way to look at design fundamentals and then explore, somewhat playfully, options for name and identity.

Fifteen minutes into the pitch, the audience was so actively engaged that the meeting became a discussion. They won the pitch by doing almost everything ‘wrong’ but understanding exactly what their audience needed to see. And we were able to rate them highly on four of the six criteria cited above. It was the best decision for the brand.


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