10 Steps to Smoothly Win a Virtual Pitch

Pro tips on managing timing and people on a conference call

someone on a computer screen in the middle of a boardroom table while others sit around the table
Do virtually what you'd do in person. Pamela Hamilton / Getty Images

In this era of Covid-19, we’re settling in for the long road ahead. Given the uncertainly of tomorrow, doing our best in new business has never mattered more. Stuck inside and working from home, the ad business is learning how to perfect the virtual meeting. Whether it’s Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams or a different platform, all agencies have been forced to drastically change the manner in which we pitch new business. The goal, of course, is to run a pitch where they get to know you and leave the final meeting feeling that you did your best.

We just finished our first virtual pitch, and I wanted to share our learnings:

Test, test, test

We use Zoom at our agency. But when we learned the prospect preferred Google Hangouts, we started using it for our internal reviews. We also did a test run with the client the day before. The key is to work out the kinks before showtime. One of us kept getting kicked out of Hangouts, so as a backup, that person also dialed in on his cell to be safe. No need to let Comcast decide your fate.

It is still possible to have great engagement, almost like everyone’s in the same room.

Rehearse the pace

I’m not usually a fan of actual rehearsals because I think you lose some of the magic. But in a virtual world, you need to be crystal clear about hand-offs and who will say what. You need to cull the banter and chime-ins. Not that it isn’t fun hearing you all talk over each other, but you need to make a tight plan. And since you aren’t able to pass the clicker, you should get really specific about transitions. This is key for whoever is driving the screen share. They will love you for letting them learn the presenter’s pacing before the show and the clients will love that you don’t have to say “next slide” 100 times.

Manage headcount

Everyone is important, but this is not the time to have everyone present. Limit the talking team to limit the chaos. Some prospects are asking agencies to limit their team to only three people, which feels a bit extreme. Six or less seems right. Have the non-talkers dial-in. You don’t want them taking up valuable on-screen video space.

Set the stage

Since you can’t read the room, it’s critical to be clear right out of the gate about exactly how the video is going to work. Letting the prospective client know what’s expected of them goes a long way toward a great meeting. Avoid too many yes/no questions unless it’s a simple one like “Can you hear us OK?” It is still possible to have great engagement, almost like everyone’s in the same room.

Rid distractions

Turn off all pings, dings and rings. No one cares that your friend finally got that Amazon Fresh order and won’t stop texting you about it. Unruly roommates? That’s why headphones were invented. And if your camera is turned on, look up. Don’t get caught multitasking. You wouldn’t do it in person, so don’t do it virtually.

Pause, and pause again

Don’t all talk at once. You’re excited about the work, but be patient or your smart points will be lost. Pausing translates into listening, and clients like partners who listen.

Mute

I almost listed this twice. You should become one with your mute button. As soon as you are done talking, mute, even if you are using headphones. Your noise cuts off the speaker. Place a Post-it Note that says mute on your screen. In our rehearsal, a certain someone was having a big issue with a huge online booze order. They didn’t realize we were all listening while they struggled with the delivery service that couldn’t find anyone to pick up the order.

Get fancy

Channel your inner TikToker. You’re looking for followers, too. Backdrops, lighting and wardrobe all count. Don’t sit with your back to a window, unless you are in the witness protection program. If the platform allows, have your designers create a specific backdrop for this meeting. Have fun with it, but don’t let it distract from the meeting.

Step back

Not even your loved ones want to be that close to your face. If you can’t get your hands on a good webcam, put your computer upon those marketing books you are never going to read. Even when we get back to some kind of normal, these video calls aren’t going away. Consider a monitor and keyboard for the long haul.

Be human

Your kid running through the frame or cat jumping on your keyboard is endearing. Don’t freak out about it; own it. We’re all in this together.

I had a prospective client say to me the other day that he really feels like he’s getting to know us and that he can’t believe we haven’t actually met in person. I hope in a few years we all look back and see how strong the relationships from these virtual wins have become. It’s a special time, for sure. We can’t let this virus dictate how we do this crazy thing called advertising.


Kate Higgins is chief growth officer of San Francisco-based ad agency Erich & Kallman.
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