The kick off, ‘chemistry session’ of a pitch is a fantastic chance to charm the pants off the clients from the word ‘go’. Not every agency is smart enough to request one, so it’s still a move that helps you stand out from the crowd. To be clear, building ‘chemistry’ with a set of potential clients should not be confused with any form of heavy petting, or more besides. It traditionally involves sitting across from a desk, armed with smart questions and creds (where appropriate), lots of charming smiles and a healthy dose of witty banter. It’s a session where the clients get to see you ‘gloves off’ and build a rapport, before the formalities of the actual pitch, where you’ll be dressed up to the nines and on your bestest of best behaviours.
So, embrace it. Smile your biggest smile. Be your most charming self. Laugh naturally, at any of their jokes, with a sensible touch of restraint/decorum at this early stage. Demonstrate that you are seemingly normal, trustworthy and hungry – for their business, not the freebies and their expense budget.
One of my first every chemistry meetings took place in London, quite early on in my career, with a rather stuffy crowd of government department officials. But we (the dream team) had them eating out of our sweaty palms in no time at all. When we got back into the car at the end of the meeting, my MD helpfully informed me that I had black ink smeared down one side of my face and in my (very blonde) fringe. Timing, as they say, is everything. Had he informed me earlier, I wouldn’t have been quite so sassy in the meeting. Were the clients amused by the ink, or my smart alec insights? We’ll never know… (But we won the whole pitch, the following week.)
If you don’t go for it, you’ll never know. But seeking to removing the ‘death chasm’ that can exist between clients and agencies from the very start of the pitch process is always a great strategy.
2. DREAMING BIG
The minute the RFP lands in the inbox, the agency goes into overdrive. Especially, the resident Executive Creative Director. It’s his time to shine. And it’s his department who can seal the deal. Cut to a grandiose vision of pitch theatre. It might be any thing from an arty mood reel, to a full blown (and shot) commercial, complete with jingle and endline – let’s face it, there’s still a fair few ECDs from the 70s/80s/90s (delete as appropriate) knocking around today. Does this highly creative extravaganza fit with the proposed ‘flow’ of the pitch story or the strategy that is yet to be developed? Will it technically create that all important ‘wow factor’? Who dares to question whether it does any of these things? The best approach is to let him/her/them get on with it, while the rest of the team sets its mind to the brief at hand and demonstrating the agency’s ability to deliver on what’s required, and more besides. On pitch day, these carefully considered creative visions rarely see the light of day – either they never actually materialise into a physical manifestation that can be shared and circulated, or they don’t end up technically ‘matching’ the rest of the content being presented and are snuggled in the bottom drawer, for a later triumph.
Either way, you love them for having the balls to go after their version of how the world (or at least, this pitch) should be. And then, true to form, they turn up to the pitch itself and their mere presence is enough to ‘wow’ the clients into saying “yes please, where do I sign?”.
3. RUNNING ON EMPTY
Pitches take over your entire being if you find yourself a few levels below the upper echelons of management in an agency. Let’s not forget that they’re not our day job, they’re an add on, but a crucial means to an end for the continued successful wellbeing of your hallowed agency. The associated symptoms experienced by the dedicated, core pitch team include:
– visible grey ‘saucers’ under the eyes;
– severe sleep deprivation and bouts of amnesia caused by sheer fatigue;
– a reduction in usual standards of body hygiene (due to a lack of time for personal grooming);
– skin rashes (often angry and extreme) and unsightly blotches;
– strange bowel movements (caused by a dependence on take away food, consumed outside of normal eating hours, and the first stages of alcoholism);
– a sharp increase in weight (see point above).
The only way to get through this is to ‘man up’ and carry on. Catch a power snooze whenever you can, even if it’s in the stationery cupboard while you’re waiting for the bulk print run to do its thing. Oh, and definitely learn how to bind a document in advance, rather than on ‘the night before’ the pitch. It will stand you in great stead. ☺
I encountered this phrase during my first ‘brand’ (versus ‘advertising’) pitch. For context, I’d worked all night. No matter how organised you are in advance of a pitch, something will happen and you end up working right up to the wire. Especially if you’re the strategist in ultimate charge of the ‘deck’ and a person who wants to maintain some form of cohesive flow to the story you’re going to tell (and sell) the next day, despite everyone chucking in their two cents’ worth of content at the final hour.
So, picture the scene: enthusiastic clients streaming into a room, desks laden with useful leave behinds, the screen all powered up, me pre–presentation and all fired up. Then the lunch gets wheeled in – it’s been decided that we’ll eat before we get stuck into the detail. The clients have travelled into London on an early flight and what they really need is some sustenance. (Don’t we all.) The measly selection of unappetising wraps appears – there’s just enough for approx. 2 wrap portions per person. I eye up one that is non-congealed and non-fishy (it’s too early, and way too risky to take on the tuna extravaganza with an empty stomach). And as I move slowly in for the kill, I hear the command: “FHB, team. FHB.” I look confused. My Account Director rolls his eyes and explains: “Family hang back. Let the clients have their fill first.” It would be ambitious for anyone to have their fill with that selection of ‘treats’ but they did, and I didn’t.
I tell you what – next time, let’s push the boat out and order double. Now there’s a thought. Doesn’t success beget success? (David Brent told us this when he said every good door–to–door salesman buys a bigger and better car than they can afford, to reassure clients that they’ll be buying from an obviously ‘successful’ business.)
5. TECHNOLOGY BREAKDOWN
Something that can happen on pitch day, always happens. You can have the most whizz bang of devices/screens/audio systems on the market, with all the bells and whistles in the world, but they will still break down. Or look like they’re working, but not work. Or work in the practice run, then stop working in the actual pitch. Work for your friendly I.T. man but not for you, once he’s left the room, the clients are sat down and you’re ‘on’.
Arguably, worse still, is the ‘version control’ nightmare that comes with the ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ effect of a panicky pitch team played out in full technicolour glory. As you start to present, you quickly realise that it’s an old version of the presentation and you need to ‘ad-lib’ that all important last-minute content that isn’t currently visible. Cue: silent scream in your head. But, just like any performance, professionals can improvise and style things out with aplomb, regardless of the conditions we find ourselves thrown into. It’s not a guaranteed pitch winning strategy when you’re forced to flourish like a phoenix, out of the chaos of your paltry electronic offering, but we do it. Every time. Thanks to such saving graces as adrenalin and the ever–present quest for a pay rise.
Maybe that’s part of the reason that I prefer using boards and pre-printed material for pitches and big presentations. I have a better success rate with those, that’s for sure.
6. THE POST MORTEM
Sometimes also referred to as ‘the wash up’, the post mortem following the pitch can be messy. Especially if it plays out after you’ve got an inkling that you’re going to win the biggest pitch in town and there’s an agency tab in a venue that serves alcohol…
The same learnings from the Christmas Party apply here. Go for your life and make the most of what’s been provided – you’ve more than earned it. But, keep your wits about you. Know your limits (given the demands of the pitch, your body will be pretty broken already by now, so it won’t take much). Avoid salacious advances from the more senior members of the team, unless you genuinely want to go down that path, of course (and totally fancy the pants off them).
A great tactic – hindsight is a fabulous thing – is often to leave wanting more. Get trolleyed, make merry, then exit subtly like a slinking cat in a (trusted) cab and wake up free of paranoia, guilt and the need for at least one avoidance strategy.