I read Richard Midgley’s feature on the pitch process with interest.
We love pitches but we also think they need a refresh: they should really only be one part of the overall work-winning process. More conversation is needed – on the brief, the way the client account will be run – and most importantly, the people – writes Julaine Speight, co-owner of digital marketing agency First Internet.
It’s a common belief that people buy into people, and agency pitches have traditionally always wheeled out the best presenters. This is understandable – they’re the people who are confident and can sell a programme of activity with acetates, boards, PowerPoint, holographics – little run through the decades there.
But this process, while effective in many ways, has one huge flaw – and potential clients all know it too.
These are not the people who will be doing the work. Those shiny happy salespeople (sorry, business development leads) are rarely involved in the day to day running of the account. The people managing the account, doing the work, liaising with the journalists and audiences, are the account executives and managers.
Those executives and managers were also the people who helped to write the pitch, did the research and had a hand in all the data and creatives, so they are the ones who should be in that room (or on that Zoom).
When we pitch to people, we bring in the actual team who will do the work. We all have different pitching styles, some are more confident than others – but we all add value to the
process. We look at ways to keep the pressure off and create pitch environments that get the best out of everyone, so that the client can understand exactly how things will run and see the expertise we all bring.
Any agency, be it digital marketing, PR or advertising, provides additional expertise for the in-house personnel. They complement the brand team with their experience on relevant client programmes, and have the capacity and creativity to provide activity that will educate an audience, connect communities, increase sales. That’s not to say the in-house team doesn’t have the expertise, but sometimes you have to take a step away from something and look at it through different eyes to see new opportunities.
When researching for a campaign, insights can come along that a good team can and should communicate – this is where a more conversational pitch process wins. A recent campaign that we created for an ecommerce company led to them making changes to their product line before we even started. As experts in social media, we were well aware of the existing and up and coming trends, and this particular client was interested in a much more collaborative approach. Rather than us tell them how we would push a chosen product range, our team told them what other product ranges they could be pushing, based on current and predicted social trends.
We then looked at how we could maximise that range in line with consumer tastes already playing out on social and media platforms. It meant a complete rethink on their part and we all created a new stock list and marketing plan – together. It’s not telling people how to run their business, but showing them that our expertise is not prescriptive, or an add on. It’s not a sales situation, it’s a professional sharing of intel that has the genuine aim of deciding the best possible path for that potential client.
By bringing the real team into the pitch, the client can also have a genuine understanding of targets from the start. There is simply no point in promising the earth if it cannot be
delivered – this leads to stress, disappointment and a very short-term relationship, as trust will soon break down. Experienced team members who have carried out similar programmes in the past will have the knowledge and confidence to advise the potential clients on deliverables from the outset – and also know if a programme needs to pivot in order to achieve its goals.
Ambitious targets are great, but they have to be sensible. We set realistic KPIs across a whole programme and constantly track them – we don’t rope our clients into 12-month contracts, they stay because they want to. We engage from the get-go and show results month by month. Many of our clients have been with us over 10 years, so a system based on trust, knowledge and hard work clearly works better than a hard sell during the pitch, followed by a long tie-in contract that breeds discontent.
Like Richard, we’re happy to visit companies and present ideas: pitches are fun to produce and exciting to present.
But we also love it when potential clients ask for a more collaborative approach, get to know the team, look at the work we have already created and then work alongside us to outline the business and then marketing objectives.
That way we can share ideas, making sure that from the start, we’re all on the same page – setting business-appropriate targets, collaborating to create standout but effective campaigns, and using the expertise of the whole team – not just the good presenters.
It’s the best way to deliver a truly impactful programme of activity. Working together to map out a plan, bringing in everyone’s knowledge.
Sorry, sales teams.