Perfect pitchers

Poorly constructed pitches are all too common, as marketers giving presentations break all the rules of engaging an audience. Simplicity is the key, so why do so many get it wrong? asks Daney Parker

Marketers who have been bored, infuriated and amazed at some of the promotional concepts that have been pitched to them over the years recognise that a professional presentation that is as interesting as it is pertinent is rare. This is frustrating because clients want to see good ideas, as these make the greatest profits.

Client-side marketers may be frustrated by the number of poor presentations they have to sit through, but for agencies a pitch is far more than an inconvenience, it is the foundation of their business. David Atkinson, managing partner at marketing communications agency Space, says: “Pitching is the most important element to a successful agency, without winning clients we don’t exist and grow.”

Most of what happens during a pitch is hidden. The actual presentation is, by far, the smallest part of the endeavour. The agency has to immerse itself in finding out everything it can about the brand it hopes to work for, the people who buy the brand, and the company that owns the brand. As well as making sure all the questions of the brief are answered, the agency has to find answers to questions the brief may have left out. By understanding the client, the agency should be able to come up with creative work that not only answers the brief perfectly, but also wows the client without scaring them.

Tales of the unexpected

These are the fundamentals of a successful meeting. Agencies also have to plan for the unexpected, and Atkinson gives a checklist of classic pitfalls that can easily be avoided. These include making sure there is enough time to get to the client early, checking there are no spelling mistakes in any documents or slides, and avoiding using too much text, as “short, fun and colourful slides are more engaging”.

Some claim that it is better to throw away the slides altogether. Natural Training managing director Matt Drought says they can be more of a hindrance than a help/ “As you stand up and read off the slides, it and stifles your mental agility. Your ability to think on the spot diminishes. You concentrate on reading out each word, rather than discussing your ideas. When doing so, you forget about the audience, their nuances, their reactions and their attention span.”

To help gauge the best way to present, it can be useful to have an interim session with the client before the pitch. Tina Axford is on the board of promotional agency Triangle, as well as a lecturer for the Chartered Institute of Marketing. She has no doubt that it is a good idea to meet with the client to present an outline strategy before developing creative work: “This has the dual benefit of gaining their feedback or buy-in to the work and also building a personal relationship that will help on pitch day. If your client is passionate about their brand, they will be more than happy to share their thoughts with you.”

From the client’s point of view, it is heartening to know that agencies are keen to get under the skin of a brief. However, a client may feel they have done enough preparation in creating the brief and feel that any additional time they are asked to spend with the agency before the pitch is a waste of their time.

Once the back-breaking work of getting a perfect presentation together is finished, the next step is rehearsing the pitch. Some find the presentation, although the shortest part of the pitch, the most nerve-wracking. However, delivering ideas to their greatest effect is a skill that Nick Smallman, managing director of communications training company Working Voices, believes can be taught.

He advises professionals on how to use the right speech and body language, and also teaches how to build a relationship with the audience. “Presenting should be a shared experience,” he says, adding: “You need an ability to understand the needs of the client combined with an ability to deliver the message in a way that is appealing. You can achieve this by adopting a focused and positive mindset combined with a flexible voice that stimulates the listener.”

Nick says relax

As well as taking a genuine interest in the audience, there are simple yet effective ways to come across well. Smallman advises having a relaxed demeanour. Eye contact is vital, as well as using engaging facial expressions – in other words smiling. “Try to talk at a sensible pace and don’t be too clever with the words you use – simplicity is king,” he adds.

Making a successful presentation does not require any knowledge about the latest technologies or demand an in-depth understanding of any complex marketing laws. In theory it is straightforward and the basic process has not changed since advertising began. In fact, it follows the same rules of any successful advertising communication, which were summed up neatly by the ad writer John E Powers, often called the father of modern creative advertising, more than 100 years ago. He simply stated that the first thing is to attract attention and the next is to stick to the truth.

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