The search for new business is becoming increasingly competitive within the advertising field as the number of retainers diminishes and appointments are increasingly made on a project basis. This means agencies are having to up their game to attract clients through their doors.
M&C Saatchi’s chief marketing officer, Kate Bosomworth, opened The Drum’s annual new business conference Pitch Perfect by walking the audience through her life in pitches over the last 25 years. Having started her career in sales at beer brand McEwan's in Scotland, Bosomworth went on to launch her own communications agency and work client-side with Sport England before joining the agency in London two years ago.
“It was really good training," she said. "I was probably pitching several times a day in a pub or a cash-and-carry up in Scotland.”
Bosomworth offered several tips around pitching and how to inspire the best from teams and creating “magic” for potential clients during a pitch.
She spoke about her experience of pitching to Sport England while at her agency (which she set up in 2002 before selling to Speed Communications in 2012) and how it was the most difficult pitch she ever faced.
“The pitching began way before the pitch. The first pitch was to persuade Tracy Crouch, who was the sports minister at the time, that you would like £10m to run Sport England’s first-ever above-the-line campaign. Not daunting at all – honest.
"You then had to persuade a whole industry of stakeholders that Sport England, which is not really a marketing organisation, and had never had an above-the-line campaign before, that it’s a good idea when they just want the funding for themselves because they want to do it. Then you had to pitch to the board of Sport England.
"And then once you had done all of that, slightly exhausting... the first time I actually pitched to the sports minister, on the top of the piece of paper it read: 'This must not feel like a government campaign'."
Bosomworth would later join the board of Sport England and run the pitch to hire the first advertising agency which resulted in the celebrated campaign ‘This Girl Can’ from FCB Inferno.
“It was bloody brilliant – it was an extraordinary journey. FCB had to go through statutory repitching and they did it with belief and passion and it was probably thanks to this campaign that I ended up working in advertising as I loved working with the agency.”
Bosomworth advised the audience to consider why a client is calling a pitch before responding, claiming that it may be down to four different reasons: a relationship breakdown, the need for new skills or capabilities, the need for a new solution or a statutory review.
“It is always worthwhile as an agency team working out which it is before they start [to repitch].”
She also advised not chasing a pitch that is openly known about as it is likely to be already midway through the process and usually proves to be a fruitless exercise all round.
“Respect the client's decision for the choices they make. It’s rare for an agency to jump into the process halfway through and do well. So just be careful where you spend your time and don’t spend 24 hours on no sleep trying to get yourself into the pitch process because you feel you ought to be there.”
Of the use for credentials, Bosomworth claimed that they needed to be “reinvented” and added that chemistry meetings where the agency only spoke about themselves rather than what they could do for the client would be doomed to fail. The need for autheniticity from all involved within such meetings was also crucial and they present an opportunity for the agency to make a decision about working with the client as much as the reverse. She also spoke about the need to create “a little bit of magic” during the session.
“The days where agencies hire an animal trainer to bring penguins into a pitch are long gone, magic is linked to authenticity. It’s about beautiful, thoughtful, tailored elements of that meeting, whether it’s how you greeted them or something you said, the flapjacks you made that morning – whatever it is. It’s about a little bit of magic and making them feel incredibly special.
"It’s about behaviours and showing them how much you care and establishing how much we go for each other – just think about was there magic in the room? It’s important – what did they see in the thing you gave them to take home? It’s about tailored, personalised, thoughtful things.”
She also spoke about the need for diversity of thought and ensuring that those on the pitching team were able to offer different thoughts and views as well as skills and capabilities that are not already present and being representative of all of the client’s potential audiences and needs.
Being ‘pitch ready’ was another element addressed, where Bosomworth advised that sharing the excitement of a pitch across the business would help the client understand who they were working with better. She went on to talk about the agency’s latest client win, London Network Eastern Railway (LNER), and the ‘magic’ that helped it to win the business.
“We gave them a brilliant creative response, picked the team really carefully, we created a team map which showed how every single person in the team connected to their line – where someone was born, where they went to university, where they had their first kiss, etc… that was a tiny piece of magic. One page in a massive deck, but it was really beautifully done. We also served Pontefract cakes because the line goes to Pontefract.”
Finally, Bosomworth offered her strongest piece of advice, which she had learned from launching her first agency before winning her first client, Unilever.
“I looked them in the eye and asked them for the work,” she stated before advising the room when speaking to potential clients. “Ask them to appoint you. Tell them what it means to you and your business. That sense of belief is incredibly attractive in that relationship between a client and an agency… That belief that you can win something and that your team is the right team, it’s really visible and in the room and that is ultimately why clients will appoint a team and who they want to work with.
“How many times have you been in a pitch and presented really amazing work and thought ‘that will do it?’ Just ask them to appoint you.”
Here is an overview of other insights taken from The Drum's Pitch Perfect event around winning new business.