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The new world of virtual pitching - how clients can get the best from their agencies

by Rebecca Vickery

23 August 2020 12:01pm

We’ve all been there. Worrying about the travel time to a client pitch. Last minute team rehearsals in the back seat of the taxi. Getting hit by a wave of anxiety when confronted with a 90s style projector in the pitch room. Long gone are those days though. From the comfort of our homes, both agencies and clients have rapidly adapted to running virtual pitches. Although the shift has been driven by the global pandemic, I suspect virtual pitching will last. Especially as organisations worldwide continue to monitor and take greater responsibility for their carbon footprint. Having been involved in virtual pitches in this socially distant world, I’ve observed five tactics clients can use to get the best from their agencies.

Tactic 1: Treat agencies like customers

Every well written brief has well defined business objectives, usually a need to sell a product or service, and clearly articulates what the target audience should feel, think and do. The first step for agencies when responding to a new pitch is to immerse in the client's business. Clients able to get the best from agencies are the ones who treat them like customers (and you never know, they may well be a future customer in the making). They understand that an agency's pitch response is only as good as the inputs available to them and so actively help their agencies to step into their customers' shoes. From sharing additional business information and being readily available to respond to burning questions to inviting agencies to experience products and services by providing samples and demos.

Tactic 2: Welcome pre-pitch agency collaboration

Clients don’t just buy ideas, resources and capabilities from agencies, they buy chemistry. Both chemistry between the agency and the client team and amongst the agency team. A challenge for agencies in a socially distant world is that chemistry is often an intangible pitch phenomenon. Something you feel more in a physical room than experience on Zoom. Clients who allow agencies to disrupt the traditional pitch process in the interest of building chemistry are the ones who get the best from them. Rather than treating the pitch as a linear process, they create an environment in which agency and client interactions can flow naturally. They encourage agencies to schedule WIP reviews, co-creation sessions and team introductions prior to the pitch in the spirit of getting to know each other.

Tactic 3: Be strict with the pitch guest list

When the number of chairs in a pitch room is no longer a logistical problem, the temptation in a virtual world is for clients to invite more stakeholders to the pitch. The risk is that agency pitches can end up feeling more like a movie premiere than a business meeting. One with many silent viewers and surprise guests. Clients able to get the best from their agencies are the ones who are selective with the guest list, implementing a strict by invitation only policy. They ensure that everyone involved has a clear role to play and are empowered to make decisions. Just because it is possible as a client to invite more people to the agency pitch doesn’t mean you should.

Tactic 4: Give agencies enough breathing space to pitch

Physical pitches usually allow enough time for agencies to get settled into the room, solve the usual conundrum of connecting to the screen and to get super charged on caffeine before the pitch. One clear benefit of virtual pitching is that the pitch process can be much more focused and efficient. However, clients can easily fall into the trap of running pitches like a military operation. One which leaves no time for technical hiccups, in depth discussion between the client and agency team or time for post pitch reflection due to back-to-back agency presentations. Clients able to get the best from their agencies are the ones who give their agencies enough breathing space to pitch. They provide agencies with the time they deserve to articulate and demonstrate weeks worth of work and the time that internal stakeholders require to process, discuss and reflect on the work presented.

Tactic 5: Don’t make agencies pitch in the dark

With reduced visual and verbal cues available to the agency pitch team, virtual pitching can feel a bit like pitching in the dark. Making it instantly harder to read a room and respond in a way that feels natural. Clients able to get the best from their agencies are the ones who remain both visually and vocally present from the start to end of the pitch. They ensure they have their camera switched on, they endeavour to ask questions and they openly share immediate feedback or watchouts to stimulate a discussion. Some clients can worry that sharing their budget early in the pitch process can hamper creative ambition but in reality, it helps agencies to focus their creative thinking so it is best clients don’t keep agencies in the dark when it comes to their budget either.

In a socially distant world clients have had to adapt to running agency pitches virtually although, both agencies and clients acknowledge that the traditional pitch process isn’t perfect. In 2018, research by Creativebrief found that 61% of brands and 93% of agencies wanted to see a change in the pitch process and now clients and agencies have a chance to act on it. If clients are willing to continue to trial new ways of working to get the best from their agencies virtual pitching will live on. It’s true that not all pitches are won in the room and it’s just as well because I suspect it will be a while before clients and agencies are back in the same room together.