Pitches aren’t won on ideas alone, they are won on chemistry

Showing commitment, energy and passion is far more important than gimmicks and big ideas when it comes to pitching.

Secret MarketerI have experienced all manner of nonsense from agencies when trying to win my business in a pitch. From a media agency offering account management and strategy free of charge, to an integrated shop providing the latest iPads (loaded with the presentation) to the entire pitch panel.

And then there was the incumbent creative agency insisting the brand should be bolder and reinvent itself by moving the Angel of the North to a new location, using our fleet of vehicles.

The latter is probably the only time I have been left completely speechless… I can still recall the forlorn agency faces staring at me and my panel of besuited executives, all silent and smiling uncomfortably at their big idea.

And yet, it’s just this kind of foolishness that enables us to find progress. To explore, be curious and move forward positively.

The pitch is there to show energy, passion, problem solving and most importantly, to instil faith.

Of course, it’s rare for pitch work to ever see the light of day. Too often the brief is incomplete, the work is rushed to a false deadline and the level of client/agency interaction minimal.

But that isn’t really the point of pitch strategy or creative. The pitch is there to show energy, passion, problem solving and most importantly, to instil faith. To create a link, an emotional bond between client and prospective agency. If you are lucky enough to hit on a brilliant idea as well, that’s a bonus.

You see, at pitch stage, no agency should be presenting if they don’t have the capability to deliver your brief. The differentiator, the point of connection doesn’t have to be the best idea. It’s chemistry.

Blank slate

Pitches are also brutal, brutal, levellers. For all of the élan, authority and illustrious past of many an agency, each can flounder so easily on the jagged rocks of a pitch, especially one by video conference.

Quite recently I was involved in a tender exercise for a piece of brand strategy work. It’s an exciting project: take a globally recognised brand, a leader in its sector, and rebrand it. Reflect, in its new identity, the internal transformation it is pursuing, to a more focused and purpose-led future.

Was it complacency, too little time, the pandemic or just a poor brief? The pitch responses were of such variable quality.

The most frustrating response came from a leading shop. They refused to present any creative or strategic thinking. Just their credentials and how they would go about solving the problem. While on the one hand I completely understand their rationale – pitch work rarely runs, the answer probably won’t be right, why should we give them the answer for free, etc. But sadly this missed the point. There was no energy, no spark, no inspiration. Certainly no bond.

Lack of transparency makes it hard to build trusted relationships with media agencies

I’m one for seizing the moment, I always have been. I’m quite a fan of Napoleon’s insight that fame may be fleeting, but anonymity eternal. In pitches, particularly, I am all for the agencies that boldly live in the present. The ones who are not bound by their past successes. To bastardise William Blake, I celebrate those who ‘kiss the joy as it flies and live in eternity’s sunrise’.

In this case, one agency really went for it. I wasn’t massively into their proposed brand model and the creative left me a little cold, but I loved the commitment, the energy and the passion. We could work with the rest. To return briefly to Blake, this agency helped us find hope in the rising sun of our new day.

It was no surprise to me their theatre won out. They gave us inspiration and hope. That’s the best kind of pitch.

Our anonymous marketer has spent years working for big brands in large organisations. They have seen what you have seen, been left scratching their head at the decisions (or indecision) of others, had the same fights. They have also seen the possibility and opportunity of marketing. In this regular series, our marketer on the inside will unpick the failings, articulate the frustrations and speak up for marketers everywhere.