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Pitches from Hell

By The Drum | Administrator

May 5, 2005 | 6 min read

One of the great topics of conversations at advertising functions is pitch experiences. Considering the number of pitches that an agency goes through in the course of a year it is not surprising that, just occasionally, the wheels come off spectacularly. All of us have at some time wished a hole in the ground would appear to swallow us up and take us out of our misery.

Some of the following examples are well known, some may be urban myth – I’m sure that The Drum would love to hear your own stories for a possible follow up. To spare people’s blushes, I have kept the main offenders anonymous


This seemed to be acceptable practice in London in the early ‘80s. One very successful jape happened when there was a major pitch for an electrical giant. The short listed agencies had to present one after another using the same equipment. When clearing up after their slot the first agency removed the fuse from the projector’s plug. The rival agency’s presentation never saw the light.


A number of agencies were pitching for an Irish ferry route. One enterprising creative director decided to really get to know the product and spent an entire day going backwards and forwards over the Irish Sea working out ideas on a sketch pad. The agency became concerned when he went AWOL. It transpires that the security services didn’t believe his ‘cover story’ and had arrested him as a suspected terrorist.


Then there was the pitch for a development corporation to attract more people and businesses to come to the town. The agency omitted to check the location which was poorly signposted and round the back of a housing estate. Five minutes before the scheduled start the media director arrived to hold the fort. Ten minutes after the MD arrived. 45 minutes later the creative and account directors arrived. Miraculously, the pitch was won – after all, if the client was that hard to find, he obviously needed the agency’s help!


‘All agencies are crooks, persuade me you’re not’. From this promising opening gambit things could only get worse. The client and his mum had a disagreement before the presentation and he decided to take it out on the agency. The account director ran though the market research to the responses of ‘Do you seriously think you can tell me how to run my business?’ and ‘Bollocks’. Finally, the larger than life MD, who was also the creative director, did his bit – ‘Is that the best you can do?’ As the team staggered back out into the car park the ebullient agency MD turned round and said ‘I think that went rather well, don’t you?’


There have been several stories on this one. Slide presentations used to be all the rage but also fraught with danger, especially when using two projectors in tandem. On one memorable occasion, the junior account handler was entrusted with bringing in the two carousels to the pitch room. She dropped them. End of pitch, end of story.


A vital re-pitch in Centre Point London. The new head of the building society was present along with 24 of his colleagues. The agency hired a projector and had 20 minutes in the room to set up before the board meeting started. Everything seemed fine and the MD fiddled with the focussing. Two hours later the agency was invited in to present. The first slide was fine, then...blank screen, blank screen, and blank screen. The client invited the agency to leave and come back ‘if and when you get your act together’. The agency called the hire company and they hared across London through the rush hour. It transpired that the MD, in his nervousness, had been pressing reverse on the remote control. The account was lost.


A whisky brand and the agency decided to have a quick sampling prior to the meeting. The MD was wearing an expensive light grey Armani suit and decided to go to the toilet just as the client arrived. In the rush, he had a slight accident. Consequently, he did not move from behind the boardroom table for the entire duration of the client’s visit. The client didn’t warm to him.


The agency boardroom was wood panelled on all sides. The new business director was in the throes of a nervous breakdown. The pitch was for a sizable piece of government business. It was agreed that he should do a short piece and then leave the rest of the presentation to the agency team. So far so good. He finished his segment and walked out of the door. Unfortunately, as everyone was aware, he had walked into a cupboard where he stayed for the remainder of the presentation. Rumour has it he even lit a cigarette to pass the time.


The agency was pitching for a major financial institution in the height of summer. A stipulation of the pitch was that they had to provide someone with extensive financial experience to be the main contact. The person was duly sourced and the agency decided that it would add sparkle to the pitch if he sat through the entire presentation with a paper bag over his head before being revealed at the end. The presentation lasted over two hours and the sweat rolled off him. Finally, he was revealed. The client had sacked him six months earlier.


The client was in reception and the MD, who liked a drink, was nowhere to be seen. The team decided to go ahead anyway. Twenty minutes into the pitch the MD walked in, clearly the worse for wear. As he went to sit down, he missed the seat and fell flat on his back. He immediately jumped up and said ‘Now, that’s got your attention – that’s what PR is all about!’ Needless to say, he didn’t win the business.

Do you have a pitch disaster you’re prepared to share? WE’d love to hear about it (and please feel free to change names and details to protect the innocent or not too innocent). Please

E-mail your horror stories to


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