The Good Guide to Pitching

A great day has dawned. We’ve accepted an invitation to pitch that we’re all happy with!

Now I’m well aware that the ‘P’ word is already overly discussed on nearly every communications platform known to the creative species, especially when connected to the ‘F’* word, but I thought it’s worth sharing an excellent example of best practice. 


Before I do, let’s highlight some bad habits, as I never want to miss an opportunity to point the finger at poor practice.

We try to avoid pitching, paid or otherwise, at all costs. Why? Primarily because in pretty much all cases, if a potential new client thinks they're going to get the best result for their company/product/service/brand via pitching, then they don't understand the way agencies work. This isn't the best way to start a professional relationship.

My big bugbear about pitching and the one that has left me bald and often foaming at the mouth is total lack of respect. What creative agencies do, on the whole, is sweat blood, expertise and intelligence to solve complex, business-critical problems. To ask us to do it for free, or at best for a token gesture of recompense, shows the blatant disregard the commissioning individual has for the value of the work or the people producing it.

That said, equal fault lies with all agencies who decide to proceed on these terms. They are equally complicit in the devaluing of their own work. Do you think this is standard practice for other professional services like lawyers, accountants or management consultants?

The best people I’ve ever worked with in my 30 years in creative services don’t advocate pitching. They’re good enough to be able to evaluate agencies abilities to solve a specific brief based on their track record with similar challenges and their personality and ‘fit’ in a relaxed chemistry meeting. This is known as professional competence.

So, rant over, why are we agreeing to pitch this time around?

Simple. Respect.

In this specific case, the initial approach was open, unapologetic and pragmatic. Historical issues, coupled with the scale of the task and its importance to the board, dictated a specific approach to ensuring they had the best solution to the challenges they’re facing. It had to be a pitch.

Not ideal, but they fully understand the significant investment in time and expertise that the participating agencies will be making. And they’re paying a commensurate and generous fee to each to ensure a positive commitment from all and the best possible result for themselves.

Very refreshing and a good sign that these guys know their onions and value our time, opinion and expertise. The polar opposite of the free or token payment pitch.

Timeframes were also generous and took into account existing workloads and commitments to our loyal client base. This will allow us to dedicate the right team to the task without compromising long-term relationships. Again, this is often ignored in the poor pitch process.

There’s an assumption you’ve got bodies lying about waiting for the next generous offer to throw time into the random free project sinkhole. If you know your stuff, you understand that great agencies are tightly run intelligent machines with minimal spare capacity.

Finally, the project itself and the long-term opportunity for our business is significant, and as a management team, we unanimously agreed it fitted with our criteria and was worth pursuing.

This is important. Ultimately we decided to say yes or no, and we choose our pitch battles very carefully indeed. We really do value what we do.

My final point is directed at those agencies that do free pitches. Paid or otherwise, pitching is a choice and a risk. It’s not ideal, and it’s never a done deal. No matter if you have the inside track. The quality of your work is outstanding. The pitch presentation you deliver is Oscar-winning.  For some unknown reason, totally out-with your control, you can lose.

A last piece of advice. If you’ve chosen to participate and you don’t win, you need to let it go. Fast. 

Pitching was your choice. You knew the risks. You’ve been beaten. You’re not dead, and you’ll live to pitch another day should you wish to. Get back to what’s essential to your business. The fee-paying clients who already trust your judgement and value your thinking and execution, day in and day out. 

They are the most valuable asset you have and worthy of your
most precious commodity. Your time.

What gives me hope for the future is seeing evidence of positive change concerning pitch etiquette. The work being done by bodies like the DBA, fighting the good fight as regard the ongoing professionalism of our young industry. The many agencies who defend their value at all costs. Clients who are looking to start meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. All these efforts combined are paying dividends.