Pitch-Perfect… Some Comms #101 (Part I)

Irish Times

Although not quite as fabulously sinister as Alec Baldwin’s “Always Be Closing” landing a pitch can be more than a challenge at times. I’ve worked with seasoned pros who will still, in moments of self-deprecating honesty and usually following a big win, quietly tell you they still baulk at the prospect of a pressurised pitch. There are also the newbies who take to it like true naturals – nothing short of massively impressive when seen in action. The rest of us probably fall somewhere in between, and for many professions – not least comms and PR – landing a pitch is a professional must-have skill.

I have to be up-front and say I love pitching. I thrive on the buzz. I’ve won some, and lost some…. walked away convinced at times that I hadn’t landed it only to get a call to say “we’d absolutely love to work with you” and similarly (although much rarer) I’ve happily closed, convinced the deal is in-hand, to hear that I’ve been pipped to the post by an outsider (or heart-sinkingly, the incumbent who was just stuck for some fresh ideas). You can never really tell but, for all the art there is to successful pitching (the more you do it, the more you realise there really is an art to it) there are also some basics every seasoned pro should know.

The post started out as a longread but, for readers on the run, it’s now a more manageable two-parter. Part I covers preparation, making an impact in the delivery of the pitch and building relationships during and after the pitch. Part II has a little more on relationships, a funny but painfully true look at going the extra mile for clients, asking for what you want and managing post-pitch remorse.

Would love to hear your own take on pitches – mail me at frimframworld@gmail.com

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Sure, it’s a cliché – but with good reason. It’s not just about researching the brief (let’s assume that’s a given) but about really understanding why they want to meet you.

Why has this particular piece of work come out to pitch? It could be that they’re no longer satisfied with the incumbents (if so, knowing why is invaluable). It could be that they’re looking for new-blood and fresh take on things or it could simply be that the internal team looking for comms support are new and want to mix things up a little? Who will be in the pitch and what have they historically looked for? Are they former agency (in which case, irrespective of how long it’s been since that was their world, assume they’ll take a different stance and tone towards your offering). Are they the final decision-maker? If not, is this outing more about building new relationships and links than closing the deal? If they are, are they also the budget-holder? It’s now not unusual to have a function or division lead who will seek co-authorisation from finance or a higher-level budget holder before confirming a new project.

Getting to the heart of the matter…

Preparation will cover off fact-level of information. More than this however, it’s about getting to the heart of the client – not metaphorically but the actual heart of what gets them out of bed in the morning. What makes them tick? What moves them? What are their values and how do they see the world? What are their scream-at-the-TV moments? Knowing this won’t change their brief but it absolutely should change how you think about and respond to it and to them.

Lots can be learned from a good internet search, but nothing can replace old-school burning-the-shoe-leather and “little black book” of contacts. My advice? Learn to love old-school. It’s classy and high-end. These days it will mark you out – it’s far too rare. And most importantly, it lands pitches! Get to know not only the business but the people.

A number of years ago I pitched for a large company and had been advised by a contact who’d previously worked with them that the “main man” in the room simply hated people standing when they pitched. He felt it was too formal and stiff – not in keeping with the tone or style of the business as he ran it. Without fully meaning to, he’d spend pitch after pitch bristling as the be-suited agency PRs stood and clicked through their Powerpoint. He’d listen, but before they’d even gotten to their “one big idea” he was on edge and uncomfortable.

The solution? I sat. There was no Powerpoint (my colleagues thought I had truly lost my mind). Instead I brought an unbound discussion document where the running order was left entirely up to him. Not because I wasn’t trying, but for a man who wanted to be informal and to debate ideas, it was a better fit. Not doing the obvious was me trying. What did he want to hear about first? Were there elements of the brief he was particularly interested to chat through? What was his take on the biggest internal barrier to success? He was on my side – we “got” each other. Truth is, sitting down to pitch isn’t my style at all… I’m a “get into your highest heels and walk the room” kinda woman but if it gets the job done (and it did) then it falls into the “suck it up” category. It’s not about your comfort but theirs. He turned out to be an amazing client from whom I learned a huge amount.

This isn’t the stuff of CIA skull-duggery and it’s not under-hand (if you’re stalking the potential client and rooting through their trash on a Thursday night, think again – you’ve gone too far!!) but it is about using your emotional intelligence (and frankly not-so-common, common sense) to present the best overall package – not only including your great idea, but by virtue of showing them how you’ll partner with them to achieve their aims and ambition.

It’s all about relationships

We’ve all heard it but let’s reflect on it for a moment… “people buy people first”. What does it mean? Well, to me it means that even as you talk through messaging, SEO and social media analytics, AVEs, data segmentation and stakeholder mapping, it’s also the case that in my business maybe even more than others – it’s still relationships, people and personal connections that turn campaigns from good or great to truly spectacular.

Clients are a little like family… there will be days you love them and days you simply don’t and you’ll wonder why, WHY, you do the job. For the record, if you have more of the former than the latter and can’t imagine a day without them – good or bad – you’re in the right line of work – welcome to my world!

These are the people you will work with – you will likely spend more time with them (and if not in their presence, certainly thinking about them) than your nearest and dearest. You’ll have the proverbial-hitting-the fan moments, the shifting deadlines that will make you want to chuck your Tablet out the nearest window, the unexpected crisis, the moment of sheer joy when coverage lands, and all manner of rollercoaster in between. You all have to get on. Not tolerate each other or get by, but really get on.

Relationships also matter in how you deliver the pitch in the room… for more on this and my moment of gruesome embarrassment, read on to Part II

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About frimframworld

Total coffee fan, dedicated foodie & news hound. Strategic PR & political comms as a day job. All comments my own - blogging in a personal capacity only.

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  1. Pitch-Perfect… Some Comms #101 (Part II) | Frimframworld - July 2, 2015

    […] Part I of this post took us through the prep and into the room on the day… this is the bit that no well-intentioned comms professor will tell you. […]

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