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What the hell should you wear to a B2B pitch?

By Joe Madden, Head of content

Don't be Shy

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October 6, 2023 | 8 min read

Joe Madden of agency Don’t Be Shy is here to answer the big questions for B2B marketers. Today: the unspoken sartorial standards of the pitching game.

A number of mannequins, wearing different outfits

Your B2B pitch is looming - but what should you wear? / Nicola Fioravanti via Unsplash

It’s the Big Pitch tomorrow, and your team is raring to go.

The train? Booked. The deck? Immaculate. The presentation? As tightly rehearsed as a Las Vegas magic show. This feels like it’s in the bag.

Just one last thing: what are you wearing?

Back when B2B was B2C’s drably sensible sibling, it was easy to know how to dress for clients. They would be dressed as if networking at a tarmac conference, so you would be dressed as if networking at a tarmac conference.

But in 2023, B2B marketing is a different beast. Edgier. Gen z-ier. TikTok-ier. B2B grew up, and got younger.

So your pitch team now has three potential sartorial routes: corporate, cool, or smart-casual. In B2B, in 2023, it’s hard to know which is best.

Option 1: Suited and booted

Take the slickly corporate route, and even the most gruffly old-skool of clients will be unable to knock your professionalism. Suits mean business, literally and figuratively.

The risk? You look stiff, stuffy, and out of touch with modern B2B marketing. Your suits might be freshly dry-cleaned, but they’ll potentially pong of ugly pamphlets, branded mouse mats and poorly attended trade expos in Reading.

Your pitching rivals – those hip young upstarts from Peckham agency Kewl, Këwl & Trendie – will make you look like dinosaurs.

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Option 2: Aggressively cool

You might instead opt for clobber that injects spicy catwalk energy into your presentation. When I worked at a B2B agency that marketed mundane office space, the creative director asked that I attend pitches in my most fashionable finery, tattoos on show. “Clients love all that,” she told me. “They want to feel like they’re working with creative people with an edge. People who see things in a different way from them. Otherwise, what are they paying us for?”

This route has its own risks, though. Is the permanently livid 67-year-old managing director of a drill-bits manufacturer going to be impressed by your mad Balenciaga trainers and acid-yellow maxi skirt? Or will your fashion-forwardness just confirm their prejudices against ‘Daft marketing barmpots, spouting gormless nonsense’?

(Conversely, though: do you actually want a client like that? Maybe lunatic clothes are a good way to filter out wrong’ns, saving you from crappy relationships filled with disputed invoices and sadistic micromanagement.)

Option 3: Smart casual

If neither formal or fashionable feel right, you’re left with smart-casual, the middling ‘meh’ of modern office wear. Blazers. Chinos. Pencil skirts. Kitten heels. Boating shoes. Greige. All Bar One at 5.47pm on a Friday.

You’re not going to offend prospective clients in purposely forgettable semi-formal wear. But you’re not going to make much of an impact, either. It’s hard to blow people’s hair back when you’re head-to-toe in Next.

Expert witness 1: the client

“When I’m meeting a marketing agency, I’m expecting a certain amount of quirkiness,” says Roshni Patel, marketing manager at M&S Corporate Gifts. “And I’d expect to see that reflected in clothes that showcase their personalities. Especially members of the creative team. You want them to stand out. To have some enthusiasm; some bubbliness about their outfits.

“Personally, I really don’t like having meetings with people who are dressed too formally,” Patel goes on. “Obviously, don’t be too laid back – don’t wear tracksuit bottoms. But if you’ve got, like, jeans, jumper and Nike Dunks on, that to me is fine.”

My agency – Don’t be Shy – has been working with Roshni since 2023, when the M&S team visited our Manchester office for our pitch presentation. What could we have worn, on that happily fateful afternoon, that would’ve constituted deal-breaking attire?

“If you’d all been suited-and-booted, that wouldn’t have worked for me,” says Roshni. “That wouldn’t have aligned with either your office space, or your agency’s work. It would’ve felt like you were ‘in costume’, trying to be people you weren’t, purely to impress a prospective client. And that’s not what I want at all.”

Expert witness 2: The academic

Barbara Nigro is a lecturer in fashion at Manchester Metropolitan University. “The corporate world has moved away from stiff tailoring,” she tells us. “So in a pitch situation, overly formal would be worse than overly casual. It’s now all about wearability, versatility, comfort. Soft tailoring. ‘Quiet luxury’.”

As Nigro explains, “Quiet luxury doesn't mean steering away from colors, personality, or textures. Quite the opposite. Going into a pitch, clients will still expect creatives to express their personality, but in subtle ways – with a single standout color or print, or a bold accessory or piece of jewelry.”

Let’s get into specifics. Shoes? “Footwear should be comfortable,” says Nigro. “Never scruffy, and with a bit of edge: you can play with colors, textures, shape. A subdued outfit can be given a push with statement footwear.

A couple of final thoughts from Nigro: “Clothes should also communicate sensitivity to issues such as the environment, the cost-of-living crisis and so on… Ultimately, it’s about expressing yourself without over-dressing yourself. That’s what’s considered professional in 2023.”

All good? Good. Now go get ‘em, champ.

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