Pitching isn't always an easy deal, especially when the client doesn't even want to be there.
The Drum spoke to Jess Gibb, business development director, St Lukes before her panel at new business conference Pitch Perfect in September on being more upfront about the pitching process and how getting straight to the point on RFI's is the right way to tell a story to a client.
What was the hardest pitch you have ever done?
We once pitched for an extremely complicated international B2B brand, and the client had asked for excruciating detail. As we waited in the pitch room to present the product of hundreds of hours work, we heard the marketing director (with whom we had had no contact) whisper to his colleague in the hallway “do I really need to meet these people?” We suspect he may not have been on board with the process.
Was it successful?
No! No-one won the pitch, and although we were paid a fee it was a total waste of time.
What did you learn from it?
It was a shambles from the beginning. It was impossible to identify who the ultimate decision makers were and this continued throughout the pitch. Trust your instincts, if it doesn’t look sound, it probably isn’t. Have the confidence to walk away.
Has the pitch process become far too complicated?
If it is a badly run process then yes – if well run it is exciting. It gets the agency going and is the chance to genuinely do good work and win a prize. Intermediaries help smooth the process within a pre-agreed timeframe and make everyone accountable.
Equally, we have recently found that direct approaches from procurement departments are making for accountable, well run pitches. As agencies, I think that we need to ask more questions on the process upfront and if something looks wrong, we need to walk away. Clients should be prepared to appoint the best agency even if they haven’t seen the ideal creative approach, rather than extending the pitch endlessly having a number of agencies endlessly refining the creative.
Is it time to ditch ‘request for information’ documents (RFIs) or even the ‘chemistry meetings?
Chemistry is such a key part of an agency/client relationship so we would be loath to scrap that part, nothing beats meeting people face to face.
Short and to the point RFIs are a good way to put your agency credentials into context. There are a thousand ways to tell a case study, and RFIs help you tell your story in a way that’s relevant to that particular client. Overcomplicated RFIs especially within the public sector can be an exercise in purposeful exclusion and the age old RFI question 'what do you think of our business/communication' can be an example of confirmation bias – clients rarely respond well to upfront criticism.
Is taking part in a pitch always a financially viable process these days?
When the pitch is only for a project, pitching become much less financially viable. Where you can confidently forecast that there is a three year relationship up for grabs, then pitching is reasonable. What is frustrating is when clients hold an extensive all out pitch and then give you a non-exclusive project without any promise of further work after the project is completed. We have had cases where what the Marketing department are promising in terms of a relationship are not reflected by the contract procurement are offering.
As an industry are we guilty of pitching ourselves to the ground?
We start each year with a fewer, better pitch mentality, but the reality is that leads come at unexpected times from often unexpected sources. We need to evaluate every opportunity against cultural affinity, client ambition, creative potential, commercial potential and strategic fit. Not forgetting the energy required to do these pitches internally to do the process justice whilst delivering for our existing clients and keeping our people sane. We frequently reject pitches on this basis.
We also have a process which allows us to get to the heart of the problem quickly, which means the focus of our energy is on problem solving and creativity – making our pitching more effective than most, which helps.
Gibb will attend Pitch Perfect on 13 September to discuss discuss how you can transcend positive attitude, to ensure it becomes an infectious trait across the whole entire agency.
This event focuses on helping agencies win new business. Check out the website for more information and to purchase tickets.
Partner of the event is BD100, with Digitas sponsoring.