Nailing your value, navigating collaborations, and dealing with procurement will all be challenges that every creative services agency will face at some point. At The Drum’s annual Pitch Perfect conference, leading industry figures all offered advice on how to overcome these hurdles to win new business.
1. Think like a brand
The likelihood of winning a client is significantly greater if an agency has a reputation which sees them attract new business, rather than chase it. If you’re looking for more invites to pitch then Lena Robinson, co-founder at Kiwi Gray has four words of advice; the first was to 'think like a brand.'
“There are 22,000 agencies in the UK all fighting to be heard; what’s really scary is that most of them say ‘we’re cool, creative and in London’,” she said. “You’re all saying the same old thing. But the most powerful and enduring brands come from the heart.”
Robinson's added the advice to think about the agency brand and the 'customer journey'.
“Buyer behavior is very much about heart and then post-rationalise later. But agencies are selling themselves on logic. Client brands are not going to be compelled with what you do and how you do it. Talk about why you do it, talk about purpose.”
Meanwhile, Pete Gomori, creative director at Reading Room said that staying true to values was equally important in a pitching environment when those pitching might be tempted to reflect what they thought the potential client wanted to see.
“Pitching is not the same as a presentation. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. If you can understand your own way of delivering [a pitch], do it,” Gomori said, which in his case meant not wearing a suit.
2. Weave price into your pitch narrative
Once you've made it to the pitch, the inevitable question will be asked – how much?
Paul Williamson, managing director at Sports Ink, suggested that at the moment, agencies see price as something to simply put in at the very end of a document rather than an “incredibly important” part of winning over a client.
As the man behind the pricing strategy for the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 Rugby World Cup he had some sage advice for business owners – use price as part of the pitch narrative.
Under his direction, tickets for London 2012 ranged from £20.12 right up to £2,012. But crucially for all events – be it athletics on a Saturday or judo on a Monday morning – the base price was the same and as such sent the message people that no one event was better than the other.
Meanwhile, for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, pricing centred on the number 15. The price of a ticket – at the lowest - was £20.15 while the limit for buying a group of tickets was upped to 15 to encourage rugby teams to come together and watch a game.
On both sell-out events, its revenue targets were overachieved “significantly” which Williamson put down to the fact that in both cases the price of a ticket became a fun talking point.
“Don’t have price as the last page of a document. Weave it in early to the presentation and use it to show value. Don’t do it in a bold or condescending way but in a way that says you need to charge for [a service],” he said.
“[For my own pitches] the price rarely ends in a round number which makes it strange and interesting so that they ask about that, not how high it is.”
3. Don’t be afraid to get procurement on your side
Emelda McBirney, senior procurement manager at Cancer Research UK dispelled many myths about the role of procurement in a marketing team and how to best manage the relationship. Among her most stressed points to agency bosses was to use procurement to their advantage during the pitch.
While admitting it was easier said than done, she said that despite perceptions, procurement people know “we need to challenge our marketing people to write good briefs and give you what you need."
She continued: “If you get a really bad brief from a client then look at it and ask if [yourself] if you can actually work with them. It might be symptomatic of the way they work.” However, she added: “But if you get the chance to ask questions then tell them you need more information.”
McBirney claimed that procurement teams will not always look to simply cut costs, but will hunt for innovation and added value from agencies. Sometimes that “can be about asking what [our] marketing [team] can do better," she said.
And you’re more likely to get a positive response to those questions if it’s the person that will be working on the account asking, it was also advised.
“The main thing is not just to show me a new business person in the pitch. Always bring the people that will work on the account. Involve them early and make sure they’re asking the questions. It does annoy us, and clients, if you don’t bring them into the pitch or put them into the documentation. And if you don’t know, then just say you don’t know.”
4. Get feedback
Post pitch, win or lose, agencies were advised to try and get feedback.
Greg Roberts, head of business development at digital agency Jellyfish, said most of the time you might get the same stock response: “You weren’t the cultural fit or you came a close second’ etc.
“We’ve tried to do recently is build a relationship before the pitch to get on a level where they can be transparent. If not, our CEO will reach out directly and say ‘business owner to business owner, here’s an an opportunity to be as blunt as you like, can you help us to improve’. In some instances, it’s the same feedback in others you get some real nuggets [of information]," he revealed.
These were some of the insights collected from Pitch Perfect, the annual new business conference organised by The Drum.