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How do you solve a problem like… standing out in a virtual pitch?

How can agencies make themselves memorable in a remote pitch?

Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. This week, readers weigh in with their advice for shining through during a virtual pitch.

With society unevenly retulrning to pre-pandemic ways of doing business, all signs point to a long-term acceptance of virtual pitching for new accounts. But there’s not much opportunity for razzle-dazzle on Zoom. Great news if you want to rely on hard facts – but we’re all human, and humans like to be entertained. So, what have you done to stand out when pitching virtually? How do you make sure your pitch is the one the client remembers after a week of video conferences?

How do you solve a problem like… standing out in a virtual pitch?

Erica Riccobono, general vice-president, new business, Elephant

One of the hardest things to do in a virtual pitch is to build chemistry. First things first: make sure the tech works. No one has patience for a faulty Zoom anymore and nothing kills the mood like troubleshooting. We recently pitched a music-focused brand and closed the meeting by sharing images of each team member engaging with music in different ways to show how important the topic – and the brand – is to each of us. Getting to know the team is ten times harder from afar, so making it personal from the start is a great way to get around the screen.

Linsey Loy, senior vice-president, head of growth, iProspect

It’s all about making it personal. Put all of your attention toward them and the value you can add. Show up early, be buttoned up and be passionate with cameras on throughout. Ask questions and leverage chat and quiz functions – anything to break things up and start a productive conversation. Add in more thoughtful touches such as ‘in the making’ videos and custom developed point-of-views, and bring forth proactive new-to-market opportunities not only for the presentation but across the entire review effort. Remember, people want to be cared for, now more than ever – so the little touches go a long way.

Suresh Raj, global chief growth officer, Virtue

Two important aspects to the craft of new business pitching that haven’t changed are firstly, the focus on team chemistry (within the agency team and with the client), and secondly, entertaining the client in the process of the pitch. Simply put, the razzle-dazzle of physical pitch theater may have ceased somewhat, but turning a virtual pitch into an entertaining ‘tv show’ will ensure memorability and chemistry – humans want to be entertained. To do this, among the many things we’ve done, we've played with gamification on virtual screens, creative backgrounds to reflect some element of talkability, and digitally innovative options of sharing content and videos.

Lyndsay Haywood, senior vice-president partner, business development and marketing, FleishmanHillard UK

How you stand out in a pitch largely relies on chemistry – and creating chemistry in a virtual or hybrid world is bloomin’ hard! We’ve been relentless in trying to do this by humanizing our pitches, finding ways for both agency and client to show their personalities, increasing our interaction methods and time, putting on a ‘show’ and also by living the brands we pitch for before, during and after the pitch. And just like IRL, the best experiences have been when the client is completely invested in the pitch process too and joins in the ride.

Amy China-Wire, head, Teads Studio UK

Pre-pandemic, our pitching sessions were all about bespoke workshops, meeting client’s desires and the energy in the room.

As we moved to virtual sessions in 2020, the aim was to stay away from PowerPoints, so we brought in Mural – a collaboration tool that keeps engagement at real-life levels. By allowing clients to engage with the content in the way they want – via mobile or desktop, using QR codes, commenting and annotating as we go – it allows everyone to focus on areas they are most interested in while still being able to guide the narrative and purpose of the session.

Sandy Cuesta, associate director, new business, Wolff Olins

We make sure our virtual pitches are worthwhile and entertaining for our clients by putting on a great show and offering them an interactive experience. Prepping verbal cues is key – if it’s a narrative we are telling, we run through a dramatic reading. You can also dial up the creativity through mood boards, motion, video and even sound. Embedding collaborative moments in the pitch is another way to create that all-important connection, and we do this with our ‘Hopes and Hurdles’ exercise to get our clients to share their aspirations and the roadblocks we’d need to solve to make them possible. It should be about having them feel like co-creators in the process.

Ali Grant, chief executive officer and founder, Be Social

Four words: Zoom fatigue is real! We all feel it, so to combat it we have found the simplest path to success has been keeping our pitches short and sweet. But short doesn’t always mean easier; in fact, it rarely does – as Mark Twain once said: “If I had more time I would have written less!” It’s also important to keep things from sounding repetitive, which is why we’ve opted for photo-heavy slides. After our pitch, we’ve sent prospective clients a small gift as a token of appreciation, and of course, a follow-up reminder of our team and services.

Caterina Bartoli, executive vice-president, Media Kitchen

We’ve found some solutions to overcome the challenges of virtual pitching. First, we try to meet early and often. Clients are more willing to have multiple meetings because they too want to make sure the chemistry is there. We also try to interact with clients outside of set meetings. For one call we sent everyone a care package of sweets to open during the meeting. Finally, we’re avoiding going straight to the presentation, using ice breakers such as the funniest ‘dad jokes’ or ‘what superhero would you be’. There’s no perfect solution; however you stand out, make sure it’s your authentic self.

Sarah Ceglarski, partner, chief marketing officer, Omelet

Humans like to be entertained, but they also want to connect and to be heard to keep it, well, human. The success of any agency-client relationship and the quality of work rests on building a real, honest thing from the jump, and that’s always been our new business approach, whether IRL or through a screen. So we try our best to let our humanity shine – even in tiny little video call squares – and hope to get the same back in return. That’s the razzle-dazzle we’re going for.

Anna Peachey, account manager, Dewynters

As the UK’s leading agency for live entertainment, you’d hope we know how to bring theater to our Zoom calls. When pitching for Mamma Mia! The Party last year, we transported the client to a Greek island through some strategic digital backgrounds. When our prospective clients at U-Live switched on, they saw our team wearing sunglasses, lounging on the beach. As each team member introduced themselves, off came the sunglasses and their background reverted to their original. It broke the ice, brought a little theatricality to the process and showed the client we were invested. And we are now proudly running the re-opening campaign.

Mustafa Himdi, director of growth UK, DCMN

When you’re pitching – especially virtually – it’s really important to establish that ‘click’ with prospective clients on an emotional level. Keeping the pitching team as small as possible is crucial to building that rapport, but there’s also something to be said about embracing the awkwardness. After nearly two years of remote pitches, we all know it’s never going to feel totally fluid. It might get weird at times, it might feel awkward – and that’s okay.

Niki Lim, director of business development, Big Communications

Instead of feeling hindered by virtual pitches, we’ve found ways to lean into them. For instance, we use the chat function to drop in auxiliary information and resource links, and encourage questions. We optimize the awkward ‘call joining time’ by creating a short video that covers traditional handout items – attendees, agenda and tips for optimal viewing. We also kept in-person touches. It may take a little additional planning, but we’ve coordinated our agency leave behinds in branded backpacks to attendees. To increase the drama, we once put a lock with a code that was revealed mid-presentation – ensuring attendees stayed engaged throughout.

Albert Moufarrij, chief marketing officer, Mach9

When it comes to pitching potential new clients, on video or in-person, 90% of your pitch content should focus on the problems and opportunities the company or brand is facing – problems they may not have even acknowledged in the RFP process. At Mach9 we also conduct an in-depth Digital Diagnostic until we feel like we are part of the prospect’s organization. At the end of the day, even if you’re virtual, the prospect will see the significant efforts behind the pitch and appreciate that you speak the same language and, most importantly, know the brand inside and out.

Want to join in future debates? Email me at sam.bradley[at]thedrum.com to get next week’s brief.

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