Agency pitching: Trailer trash or trailer cash?

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Are you feeling the love for your agency's pitch?

If your pitch is a trailer for your agency, would you go and see the film? Some agencies make poor trailers for what might be equally poor films. They don’t last long. But what if your film is actually pretty good and your trailer less so? If you’re losing pitches, and thinking ‘we could have won that’ the answer might lie in the impression you’re making as a team when pitching.

In a pitch, a client is buying, above all things, a relationship with their agency. This is based partly on evidence of your expertise and partly, (overwhelmingly) on the feeling they get from you. They’re asking, who are these people? What are they like? How do they work together? What will it be like to work with them? Do they empathise with the challenges we face? Have they got ideas and thinking that will help? And unconsciously or otherwise, they’re looking to see if you hang together. This is what creates the feeling that a client gets from a meeting with an agency.

How well an agency is able to create a ‘good’ feeling is determined to a large extent by how well they perform their trailer. This is about how they ‘walk the talk’. This amounts to making sure that what they say matches up with how they act in the moment. An audience will feel uncomfortable when your walk and talk don’t align. And they’ll be drawn to your walk (how you act) rather than your talk (what you say) and will make their decisions based on this.

What causes the mismatch?

A pitch presentation is a team effort. It involves members of different parts of the agency coming together and uniting. If there are any relationship issues rumbling along between these teams this is where they can surface. Another cause of a mismatch is that agencies seem to find it hard to make time to rehearse their pitch presentations as a team. And it’s this lack of pitch practice that leaves space for an agency’s walk and talk to part company with each other.

What does a mismatch look like?

Here are a few examples:

  • You explain how well your account team and creative team communicate with each other but they manage to talk over each other or disagree with each other in the room.
  • You highlight one of your skills as an ability to listen to your client, but you fail to show curiosity around their concerns, or ask few questions to learn more.
  • You pitch your efficiency in managing a budget well, but some of the people who you bring to the meeting don’t appear to make a contribution.
  • You present a “curiosity to dig deeper to uncover truth for your clients” but fail to ask your client any questions during the pitch.

What can an agency do about it?

There are three steps to bringing your walk and talk together: Assess, plan and rehearse.

Assess: Get a handle on the gap between your walk and talk. Start by getting your team together. Do a full run through of a recent pitch, recreating it as closely as possible. Appoint one of the team to be an observer, to watch and listen. Ask that person to note down everything that you do that supports (matches) your words. And everything you do that detracts (mismatches) from them. Then arrange a debrief session.

Plan: Discuss and agree on how you are going to make time to rehearse. What will you spend less time on so that you can run through the presentation? Appoint a ‘rehearsal champion’ who everyone agrees will coordinate the run through and everyone agrees to cooperate with.

Rehearse: Make sure it includes a full committed rehearsal, in front of an audience (colleagues are fine) with all slides, words, introductions and endings. Then adjust until your ‘walk and talk’ line up. Making this process a habit will increase your chances of winning a pitch. And let’s face it, if it’s worth winning, it’s worth committing some time to.

Where do you spend your time when it comes to pitching? Most agencies work really hard on their ideas and thinking. And of course, they must. But if they fail to get their walk and talk to match up, they won’t create the right feeling, and will overshadow their best ideas. And the trailer will not sell the agency.

John Scarrott is an ACC credentialed Trainer and Coach working with marketing, design and creative professionals on their approach to influential communication.

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