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The pros and cons of virtual pitching

In the third of a four-part series on virtual pitching, Debbie Morrison, Ebiquity’s managing director, global events and partnerships, sets out the pros and cons of taking the pitch process online.

Having helped advertisers lead agency pitches for more than 30 years, I know first-hand that confidence in the pitch process is hugely important for brands. Pitching is something most brands do rarely, so they’re often unsure of up-to-date processes and practices.

The coronavirus pandemic has provided an uninvited if long-overdue opportunity to bring pitching into the digital age. From our conversations with brands and agencies who have been through pitching in the virtual world during 2020, much of it is working well. The consultant’s role is to help bring the best out in all parties, and we have worked with many advertisers to help reinvent the process in these turbulent times.

We’ve summarised the pros and cons of virtual pitching into two handy tables, looking at eight pros (and their consequences) and six cons. On balance, the remarkable adaptability of the marketing community suggests there are more positives than negatives about the reality of virtual pitching, and this is reinforced by two industry perspectives, from Tracey Barber, Global CMO, Havas Creative and Vincent Teh from Danone in South East Asia.

The pros of virtual pitching

Issue/aspect

Consequence

Low or no travel

Makes pitches less time-consuming, tiring, and expensive for all involved especially for multi-market pitches, not to mention a significantly reduced carbon footprint.

Accessibility and interaction

Senior brand and agency staff from multiple markets more available, more likely to attend briefings, Q&As, and pitches. Higher quality dialogue throughout the process.

Increased agility

More straightforward to align and connect specific expertise both brand- (marketing, finance, procurement, legal) and agency-side (creative, media, digital, tech).

Technology upside

Easier to connect bigger teams, understand the workings of new platforms. Simultaneous and instantaneous sharing of screens, data, strategies. Breakout rooms match peers. Chat and Q&A capture questions without halting flow. Recording sessions for learning and to aid understanding.

Face-to-face experience

Despite experience of “Zoom fatigue” and video conferencing not “just like being in the room”, it does enable brands to see agencies in person, read some body language.

Right content, right time

Pitches not taken up with credentials, case studies, commercial questions – those can all be covered in separate sessions before the pitch. Focus on ‘exam questions’.

Location neutrality

Briefings and pitches no longer held at global or regional HQs/centres of gravity. Equality for all experts and team members, irrespective of home office location.

Judgment on content

With pitches not running in agency offices, there’s less chance of ‘theatrics’; smoke and mirrors. Levelled playing field allows brands to judge based on content not theatre.

Industry perspective: the creative agency view

Tracey Barber, global chief marketing officer, Havas Creative: “It’s been a constantly evolving few months since lockdown. Everyone has accepted that a return to the office will be slower for some and that to keep the industry moving, we have to adapt. Many clients have restarted pitches while rigorously adding in to the process, trying to build the people vibe which is so important to any partnership. One global opportunity asked for films of the team members, a full written RFI, and recorded interviews led by the consultant in charge, as part of their initial selection.

“As agencies, we are putting a lot of our energy into how we take the F2F experience virtual. There are basics which still have to be adhered to, from getting the number of people presenting right to the length of a virtual pitch. But the bigger question is how to actively recreate the agency vibe. We recently completed a global pitch where we needed to demonstrate key market capability. Conscious of carbon footprint and the universal stress we were all feeling during lockdown, we asked the clients to share where they lived (across eight countries) and then their relevant agencies sent goody boxes showcasing the work each of them have been doing to support staff mental health, relaxation tools and tips, and initiatives they had done with existing clients.

“Procurement and consultants have been incredibly professional throughout lockdown. Adding in time, setting up encrypted logins for financials, and working through how to get the best, most secure solution for both sides.

“Agencies remain buildings full of people, even in a remote world of work. I firmly believe that it’s the people alone that differentiate one agency from another. The creative magic still happens best when we are together – and clients want to experience the feeling of the gang they might be a part of. We are getting better at using the tech and minimising its interference, but we’re in the business of making people FEEL something, and we’ll never be better at that remotely than we are in the flesh.”

The cons of virtual pitches

Issue/aspect

Consequence

Chemistry

It’s much harder to observe physical (especially facial) reactions on video conferences. Eye contact is harder and it’s difficult to detect agency team chemistry, dynamics.

Reading the room

7% of our ability to persuade comes from words, 38% from tone of voice, but 55% from so-called paraverbals. More than half these cues are lost if you’re not in the room,

Zoom fatigue

The reality of working from home for is that each day can be just a series of Zooms. It’s challenging to summon up enthusiasm for pitches if they’re ‘just another Zoom call’.

Attention

It’s hard to retain focused attention throughout a virtual pitch, particularly if it’s one of many. Even when the pitch isn’t covering your area, resist the temptation to multitask.

Interruptions

Pets, children, partners, flatmates, and delivery drivers have all made appearances in virtual pitches. Advertisers and agencies should minimise risks of intrusion during pitches.

Preparation

As working from home can be one call after another, too often those receiving and those giving pitches are under-prepared. Treat virtual pitches as seriously as in person.

Industry perspective: the client’s view

Vincent Teh, digital, strategy & insights, careline director – India South East Asia at Danone Specialized Nutrition: “When the Covid-19 lockdown took effect, it was vital that the impact on our agency review process – already well under way – was minimized. So, in partnership with Ebiquity, we took it to the virtual world. Collectively, we applied all the successful principles of an in-person pitch to the virtual agency review. However, working remotely required more planning, more thought, and more coordination.

“We were overwhelmed by the willingness of the agency partners to move into the virtual environment, be adaptable and flexible, as well as accommodate our needs and ways of working. Through necessity, we have all collaborated much more closely, which has strengthened the relationships during the process. An added benefit is that virtual pitching has been cost effective as it has saved time and travel costs. Overall, it has been a really positive experience for all and we got a great outcome from the review. There are some aspects, without doubt, we’ll be taking forward into the future, too.”

In tomorrow’s final article, Laetitia Zinetti, Ebiquity’s managing director for Continental Europe, outlines what she believes the future of pitching will look like, and the answer is “phygital”: part physical and part digital. Ebiquity has published a comprehensive guide to virtual pitching. Download it here.

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