Try to fully understand the reason you lost a pitch, even with a detailed client explanation, and you enter a murky pond of misplaced diplomacy, political machinations, regrets and confusion. In the end, you never really know anything other than you came a close second.
Nevertheless, the question about what creative work you went with, even if they say they loved the work, is usually one of the first to raise its poisonous head.
If you win it’s always the creative what did it, lose and it was that bloody creative work you insisted upon presenting.
So do you go with the work you think is right and risk losing in a blaze of glory? or do you pitch with the work you think they will like and settle for a dull one-nil win?
Phil, our fearless leader, and I were discussing the benefits of pitching with work you know they will like. “The problem is” he said “it’s like going on a first date and saying that you really like Justin Beiber – because she does. Then you spend the rest of your life going to Justin Beiber concerts”
“Put that it in one of your blogs” he added.
Of course, when I say ‘present work you know they will like’, what I mean is that of course they should like the work. Just, I dunno…not the kind of work that you know they will like.
Oh you know what I mean.
Over the years I have learned a bit about pitches, none of which seems to be of any use for the subsequent one, because each invitation to pitch brings with it it’s own set of variables and political highwire act.
Sometimes though it’s just a question of the cap did not fit.
(Beware of creatives with large heads.)
Anyway, so as not to disappoint, here in no particular order, are a few things I have begun to feel are reasonable snippets of advice – please only take them on board at your own risk.
1. Never go in with just one concept. Not because pharma clients like choices (they do) – but because choices mean you’ve done lots of work and lots of work looks good.
2. If you go in with more than three concepts it looks like you have no idea what you are doing and are just throwing mud at a wall to see what sticks. ( and if they don’t like any of the routes it just accentuates the mismatch)
3. If you hear the words “It’s yours to lose” it’s the kiss of death.
4. Never put your agency recommendation out there until the room has spoken, then nod along with their favourite. The purpose of the meeting is to get out of the room without disagreeing with a client you don’t have yet.
5. Never say ‘well we could change it all if you don’t like it’ before they’ve asked if you could change it all because they don’t like it.
6. Too many tactical examples of your campaign rarely work well in a pitch. I know…I know…but…it slows the pace down and you get bogged down in the weeds. Keep them to a minimum. It’s the idea they are buying, and your scientific understanding of their brand, they know you can do a leave piece.
7. Coding anything is a complete waste of time and energy. Animate it to demonstrate is far better, because pressing a button on an iPad is now (given it’s 2015 not 2008) singularly underwhelming and clients have no appreciation for the lost-weekend-coding-fucking-nightmare it took to achieve it.
8. Remember to always keep an eye on the person who should be in the meeting but isn’t.
On one occasion we pitched one of the best pitches I had ever been in. The client had tears in her eyes as she shook our hands with a silently mouthed ‘thank you’. Never have I discussed work in such detail and at length, never had I had clients ask passers by to come in and see the work.
We found out the next day we didn’t get it.
Apparently even though they ‘loved the work and us’ they felt their boss in his office in California would hate it.
9. If the main client suddenly can’t make it, don’t have the meeting.
On another occasion we pitched to a client in Zurich (who were launching a new patient website for Dementia ) who’s wife had gone in to labour that precise morning. So as not to let us down, he sent his trusty partner, the doctor who knew nothing of the careful strategy we had pieced together with his marketing half over the last month or so – or indeed the first thing about marketing.
He proceeded to tell us what he would do, which, needless to say, did not match anything we had in the presentation.
So that was that.
10. If the client is worried about something that you can’t fix, like you don’t have an office in Cairo, that will eventually be the reason you lose.
11. When they say we want to be ‘creatively challenged’ they probably mean they’re open to some new colours in the brand guidelines.
But pitching itself is not a perfect process for finding your ideal partner anyway.
As Ben Davies, European CEO of HAVAS Health asks in the current Directory “Is walking in to a party seeing the most beautiful-looking girl the best way to choose your wife?”
Well, it worked for me but I take his point.
Organic growth works because clients have time to get to know the agency, and vice versa. So chemistry meetings and workshops are incredibly important if you are going to get anywhere, great work or not.
For all the good it will do you, I guess my advice to anyone is to pitch with what you’d like to see run and what you think is right. With all the possible variations of country, personalities, politics, subjective taste, uneducated assessments and internal wrangling you stand as good a chance with or without work that you think they will ‘like.’
So you might as well like it too.