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Ditch the Pitch: 'Battle weary troops never win' says AMV BBDO group CEO Cilla Snowball


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

August 6, 2018 | 4 min read

We are all guilty of pitching ourselves to the ground says Cilla Snowball, group chairman and group chief executive officer, AMV BBDO. Pitching is a choice and the more pitches you do, the less you win.

The Drum speaks to Snowball, ahead of her appearance at Pitch Perfect on spreading agency resources too thin and how the process can be shortened and screened by some honest feedback.

What was the hardest pitch you have ever done?

Lots of pitches are hard because of their size, scale and complexity. Repitches are hard because the statistics are against you on the likelihood of retention success. It’s wonderful to win but doubly hard if you lose. But the hardest ones are the knottiest strategic problems.

Road safety was one of those, which came up for grabs soon after I joined AMV in the mid 1990’s. We hadn’t ever won a government pitch despite many previous attempts over the years. We desperately wanted to win this one and we were determined that we would. The brief was around controlling speeding in urban areas, encouraging people to stick to 30mph.

The fact that one or two mph over the limit made a life and death difference was virtually impossible for people to accept or own. It was a beast of a strategic task, an almost impossible creative challenge and a harrowing project to research. Drivers simply couldn’t relate to or own the problem. Statistics around fatalities and serious injuries meant nothing. It was such a hard brief.

Was it successful?

It was. We had a barnstorming creative idea, a brilliant team and a steely determination to win. The idea was about showing real home video footage of happy kids whose lives were then cut short by speeding drivers in urban areas, needlessly killed in accidents near their homes where drivers were exceeding the limit. The brave families who participated in the campaign were heroic in their passion to tell their harrowing stories to help others .

Making the problem real and tangible meant drivers couldn’t escape responsibility. Reframing the problem as driving a little too fast rather than speeding made people own the problem more readily. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding and effective campaigns we have ever worked on.

What did you learn from it?

All the usual lessons. Tenacity, collaboration, delivering irresistible work that clients can’t walk away from, work you simply have to make. Getting to a robust strategy before you can even hope to land a brilliant creative idea. Great work can literally save lives.

Has the pitch process become far too complicated?

It goes longer and deeper because the pre-screening and RFI process is more detailed and the commercial negotiation more protracted. But it is all in a client and agency’s control to manage and can be shortened by decisive screening and honest feedback conversations, both ways.

Is it time to ditch ‘request for information’ documents (RFIs) or even the ‘chemistry meetings?

I don’t think so. They are both vital, but they need to be managed properly.

Is taking part in a pitch always a logically financially viable process these days?

Pitching is a choice. The more you pitch, the less you win. Best to be ruthlessly selective about whether you pitch in the first place and then give it your all. Spreading agency resource too thin on pitches is a recipe for disaster.

As an industry are we guilty of pitching ourselves to the ground?

Again, it’s a choice. As pitches decline in volume the value equation has to work- financially, creatively and for talent growth. We pitch ourselves into the ground at our peril. Battle weary troops never win.

Snowball will speak at The Drum Pitch Perfect event on 13 September to discuss how she approaches the new business process, what she likes and don’t likes and how she sees industry trends progressing from their heady heights.

This event focuses on helping agencies win new business. Check out the website for more information and to purchase tickets.

​Sponsors of the event are BD100 and Digitas.

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