What clients should look for in pitch creative.

Having been in many pharma-pitches over the years and lost most of them, (or, maybe like you, came a ‘close second’) I always wonder at the decision making process that clients go through to pick their agency of record.

My sense is that, when it comes to creative work, in Pharma you can’t really win a pitch with an idea but you can lose it.

“We loved your creative and the chemistry in the room but another agency had a better insight in to the strategy” Does that sound familiar?


“We loved your strategy and the chemistry in the room but unfortunately your creative didn’t hit the mark for us”.

It’s hard to be the hero of the piece, but you can often be the villain.

Both responses can make your heart sink. But I have come to realise, mostly for the purposes of a blog dear reader, that pitch-clients divide in to three creative camps. If you are a creative agency you can never really be sure which camp your client is in until after you’ve presented, but if you are a client looking for an agency perhaps you’ll recognise yourself and adjust accordingly.

Camp A

This camp want to see the creative idea that will take them to where they want to be. An off-the-shelf instant winner, created with no input from them or collaboration – all in a week. A shot in the dark that gets their juices flowing.

They know it probably won’t be the final campaign that runs but they want you to match closely the creative idea they had in their heads.

Camp B

This camp just want to see how agencies think and operate and if there is chemistry there. The creative idea still needs to be good but it’s enough to give an indication of craft and imagination and good thinking. The final product will need to be a product of much collaboration in any case so these clients take it as an indication. (ooh a pharma pun!)

Camp C

This client is not that interested in the creative either way but wants to see how the agency works under pressure. They count creativity by the yard…the more campaigns and more choice the better.

As a Creative Director its always nice to win a pitch when presenting to Camp A. Boom, we nailed it, they loved it…it gives both parties that sense of eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room romantic buzz…but it’s also a high risk strategy for both parties. It’s rather like (back in the day when people met in bars not on dating apps) you start talking and realise that even though this new person is hot and you’ve already snogged them, they’re a dick or an idiot or both. And then you go back to their place anyway.

Ironically, the idea that gets the clients going from Camp A is invariably cast aside as research, legal teams and junior brand managers take hold.

Camp C is relatively easy to please but the problem is no one admits to being in Camp C. It’s the criteria that no one likes to admit to, but hey did you see the amount of ideas they did? Procurement people can look really good if the agency they are serving up over-produces on creative. Value for money and all that. The risk being that if your clients are in A or B camp they may just think you have no idea what you are doing.

We once re-pitched for a gout campaign when the client relationship was subject to new marketing people coming in and they looked wobbly (the relationship not the clients). We decided, for some reason I can’t recall, but let’s call it a ‘Spidey-sense’, to ditch pretty much everything else and pitch eight ideas at them – to batter them in to being impressed. The main client came up to us afterwards and congratulated us saying “pitching that many ideas was a master stroke”. We won that one, so admit it or not, C is definitely a camp.

Which is why clients, in my humble opinion, should always aim to be in Camp B. Mostly because you’ll end up there anyway. And if you’ve ignored the chemistry, the agency’s previous work and experience in favour of an idea that pops, (or an invisible matching word on your card that only you know) or just like quantity then you may over time regret it – and have that walk of shame moment the next morning.

So what criteria is helpful to be more like Camp B?

Here’s how you can assess a creative route without necessarily picking it because it nails it.

  1. Does the idea look at something from a new angle and with a new insight (whether it scares me or not)?
  2. Does it make me think about the problem in a way I hadn’t before (whether I like it or not)?
  3. Have they thought about different countries and how the idea might work there? (Eg: the idea isn’t a pun)
  4. Have they considered my budget? (even if I haven’t given them one)
  5. Is it great but wrong? (great shows promise at least)
  6. Do I like it but it probably won’t get approved.(Pitches are places to dream!)
  7. Do I remember anything at all even after seeing 5 agencies and 20 campaigns?
  8. Do I at least understand it?
  9. Does it have legs?

If the creative ticks all these boxes, chances are you already have a pretty decent idea and an agency who knows how to get one.

In the words of Don Draper himself, good luck with your next meeting.

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