Rethinking the perfect pitch

Earlier this year, the American television network AMC announced their concept of a reality show called ‘The Pitch’ and here’s their description of the format of the show:

“Each episode is a standalone competition between two or three agencies. For the series, AMC has ordered eight episodes, and filming for each episode will take place over a 10-day period. Agencies are welcome to participate in more than one episode if they so choose. The structure of the show is as follows: In the beginning, the agencies will travel to the brand’s HQ to get the brief. We will then document each agency as they spend the next 10 days formulating their creative pitch. In the end, the agencies come back to the brand and deliver their pitches. The brand will decide which agency to choose. And the business that the agency wins will be REAL business.”

The 10-day lead-time of a pitch, of course, only exists in “reality show”. In reality, it’s more like 10 weeks. Anyone who works in the creative industry must be aware of the pressure of pitching. Nevertheless, agencies do it; creative hotshops do it. And we never seem to have enough of it.

No matter what discipline, and no matter whether full-scale creative work is required, in any new business pitch, the financial investment in pitch presentation is huge. Earlier this year, the IPA and ISBA decided to conduct a survey and try to find out current practices and attitudes to pitching and importantly to the real costs of pitching. The results about pitch costs seemed alarming, but for anyone who had participated in any major pitch, will certainly understand the reasons why. The research found that clients usually perceive agency pitch costs to be in the region of £31k for a major pitch; however, the reality is that it actually costs in average more like £178K. This may sound like an inflated figure – but when I was based in Asia within network agencies, often when it comes to pitching for global brands, not only do the lead office has to involve the local offices and tap into their resources and expertise, the time spent on the pitch for senior executives could be substantial.

In a new website ‘The Good Pitch’ ( dedicated to the client/agency pitch practice, you can find all the latest research and advice around the issue. There is also an interesting section outlining ideas of new ways to pitch that seems to be a great starting point for the industry as a whole to discuss about innovative way to approach pitches that not only will make sure all the financial and time investment is well recognised, it will also encourage us to think out of the box and approach it differently.

Here I am adding a few of my thoughts:

Pitch 24/7:

Agencies should take every opportunity to express their ideas to any potential client through non-conventional sources and channels. The traditional model of a structured creative pitch process may not always be the most effective way to showcase the capabilities of the agency. Just like asking someone to marry you, the ‘build up’ is as important as the dramatic moment of popping the question. Consider these:

  • Take every opportunity to have a voice in analysing the current portfolio of work of the clients that you are interested in.
  • Develop a blog and discuss issues that will attract the attention of potential clients.
  • Actively participating in industry discussions to express your unique strategic viewpoint – a clever way to get client to take notice of your company.
  • Showcasing fantastic case studies in industry conferences give potential clients a good chance to get to know the track record of the team; helping potential clients to relate their own marketing issues with the solutions you have come up for clients facing similar challenges.

Forming strategic collaboration:

Especially relevant to international clients, partnering with strategic alliance not only gives the pitch a totally new outlook; potentially it will also allow multiple partners sharing the financial burden of the presentation. Creative agencies cleverly partnering with implementation consultants will give the client an assurance that not only you know about the importance of the creative idea, you recognise the importance of making the ideas happen – and not only locally, but regionally and internationally. BBH had started a strategic partnership with top London postproduction The Mills in Singapore this year; my guess is partly serving this purpose. Neil Evely, the person who leads the Asian operation, said in a blog entry (13.06.2011): ‘…I’m pleased to say we have already played a key part in helping BBH put together some great pitches, hopefully they will prove fruitful and we can work on projects for the new clients in the near future…’ For well-chosen partnerships, it will certainly be a win-win situation.

Engaging in pitches is a reality. And as creatives we all get a kick out of new business pitches since they always give us rare opportunities to approach a marketing problem boldly and unconventionally, and often turn into a catalyst of break-through ideas. What we need to make sure is whatever process we adopt, everyone – both clients and the various agencies – gain something out of it.

Further reading: Twitter tag: #thegoodpitch