Pitch Tips For Agencies

As the song goes, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now.” For more than 20 years, I’ve had the chance to sit on both sides of a pitch. As a writer, creative director and the head of a few agencies, I’ve been on the agency side. Then, as a search consultant, I’ve been on the other side.

So, seen from a creative’s point of view, here are 15 things agencies should keep in mind as they prepare for the presentation at pitch meetings. (In a future column I’ll tell you 15 things clients should do.)

1. During the presentation, there are some very basic things that can catch a client’s eye. How are the tables themselves laid out for the pitch? How is the seating arranged? Is there assigned seating, or can clients sit wherever they’d like? Be aware that these things can speak volumes about how an entire agency itself is structured.

2. Always remember to praise the clients of your current work—by name, if possible. If it’s all “our agency did this, our agency did that,” it indicates that you don’t treat the client as part of the team. Instead of “our agency did this,” say, “our agency, working with our client Bob Smith, did this.”

3. Remember who you are competing against and the clients of your rival agencies. Don’t use one of their clients to make a positive point about your own work. If you are pitching against Chiat, don’t choose Apple as a good example of branding. OK, so it’s brilliant work. But choose someone else’s to use as a comparison.

4. Don’t worry about doing the same thing as another agency. You probably won’t even be close. It’s like worrying if you will be wearing the same dress or tie as someone else to a party. Most likely, it won’t happen. We are all individuals, and the work will naturally reflect our own unique tastes.

5. Don’t be a sycophant. Don’t laugh too loudly at clients’ jokes or nod in approval at everything a client says. It usually comes off as phony and insincere. And also:

6. Don’t laugh at your own jokes too much. Alright, you’re witty, and you love your pitch. But let the client set the tone, not you.

7. Beware of the totally bonehead move. One agency team walked in and criticized the client’s logo. Perhaps they should have asked first. The logo design was the pet project of the company president. Game over. Head for the showers.

8. Actions speak louder than words. A client asked how much time they would get from the executive creative director of the agency. Instead of the account executive calling back with the information, the ecd himself called back to reassure the client of his involvement. Much more convincing.

9. Be genuine. Be yourselves. And know your own strengths. That will lead to an air of easy confidence. If it’s a good fit, you’ll both feel it. If it’s forced at the start, the relationship will be forced from there on out.

10. Be good team players, and show that you like each other. If there is internal dissension, a client will pick up on this. And it will make them wonder if you will be a good team player with them as well.

11. Try to find out where your clients were in their past lives. It’s a small world, and they may have worked at a rival of the company they are with now. Therefore, don’t criticize their previous company. You might, in fact, be criticizing them.

12. Talk with one voice when it comes to style. Hopefully, your offices are really a reflection of who you are. But is your language? Deutsch is a good, tough, hard-hitting agency, and their language fits their overall image presentation. They’ve used words like “battle,” “combat” and “bombard.” But no, they didn’t serve K-rations.

13. Ask questions. If you are given the chance to get information, take it. It shows greater interest and teamwork. Can you visit a plant? Can you go on a sales call? Don’t pester, of course. But don’t refuse information when given the chance.

14. Know the client’s products. A week before the pitch, start using their products at the office and at home. It will give them a sense that you really understand what they make. If you are pitching a soap, make sure you can tell them how much you like the lather.

15. If you can, get an outside person to look at your pitch to see if it makes sense to someone not involved in your mind-set. It’s hard to keep any distance at all from your own work. You’ve fallen in love with the work you’ve done. But will others? Get a truly objective evaluation.