How to Lose a Pitch?

If I would be a client, I would not have traditional pitch process. I would instead meet couple of agencies, which seem interesting to me. Have a long discussion with them to see how they view your business and the strategy. These discussions should happen with the potential core team that would be working with you (not just figureheads). This way I would ensure that the chemistry was right and their thinking is sharp. I think the best way to assess the ability to do good work is by evaluating the actual work the agency has done for their existing clients instead of the circus with usually is involved in the traditional pitches. If past cases appear satisfying then it boils down to the chemistry.

That being said, I love those NB (new business) pitches. They usually require plenty of work, fights with the team, all-nighters, panicking, plenty of killed ideas and lots coffee. But when you win them, it is one of the best feelings you can have in this business. Also other way around, the announcement of losses have driven me to the depths of depression. Then the only cure is to get back to the saddle and win the next one.

I have never believed someone who says that he has flawless track-record with pitches. That just means they are lying or just participating in small-time competitions. On the top, the difference is small. No matter how good you are or what you do, sometimes you just lose. And that´s part of the game.

There are certain mistakes, which I have seen doing repeatedly in pitches (and over and over again).

How will you surely lose the pitch?

1. By Being afraid of losing.
Usually when someone says “we have to win this”, everyone starts stressing. Yes, you always have to be serious about winning, but it is better to gamble than play safe. If you are afraid to be daring in pitch presentation, you usually will not be daring when doing the actual work. You do not change your agency philosophy to win pitches. Or you shouldn´t do mundane middle-of-the-way crap to make sure that you do not offend anyone. Or you should not be playing safe. The pitch is not only about client reviewing you, it is also about you reviewing the client. The cost of having difficult or bullying client who is not a right match for your agency will always be unprofitable on the long run.
2. By not doing your best work.
It is a false belief that the agency who does the best work always wins. Too many times the initial decision is much more actually about the politics. Or the client is just too damn scared to do the right thing. This should not prevent from always delivering the best work you can. There are two valid reasons to lose a pitch in my opinion:
* The work was too daring (This usually means that the client does not really want a real strategic partner, which pushes the creative envelope)
* Your agency was too expensive (This usually means that the client is a cheapskate)
3. Underestimating the value of the personal relations.
This does not mean that the pitch is about cabinet politics. However, sometimes you might have lost the pitch even before your presentation because the decision-maker is a fishing buddy of your rival agency head. Try to maximize the time you spent with the potential client to see are they really setting up a fair game.
4. Playing by the rules.
I have been part of winning pitches where we have only presented the strategy. Or where we have presented over 100 print ads. Or where we have presented ready-made film. Or where we have just shown the showreel and had couple of talks. This just illustrates the fact that you always have to set up different game plan for the different pitches.
Other thing is that you should take the pitch brief with a grain of salt. You should not present what client asks, but what he really needs. You might increase your risk of losing, but also maximizing the differentation from others. So usually if you are forbidden to change the logo or tagline, you should at least evaluate the possibility. And if you can improve them, go ahead.
5. Not knowing your enemies
Always make sure who are your opponents in the pitch. If the client does not say it straight, use your contacts in other agencies to find out. This way you can set up your game plan. Certain agencies have certain style, so you have to maximize the differentation from them. Also because other agencies are doing the same thing, I stress the importance of the 4th part. Do surprising moves, so your opponents cannot anticipate them.
6. Not putting a good show.
The pitches are many times more about showing that you care than showing that you can. That is why different stunts work well in NB-context. It is not because the clients choose you, because you have decorated your meeting room the resemble aeroplane (in airline pitch) or that everyone is wearing custom-made sports-sneakers (for sports client). By having a good show, you demonstrate that you really care.
8. Not putting anyone at charge.
The common pitfall of pitch is that there are too many egomaniacs in the same team (typical problem in every ad agency meeting room) and no one is really leading the group. This results in absurd fights about who is presenting and in what order. There has to be a designated leader for every pitch, who makes sure that the best work is to be done. He makes the final decisions. He also has to make sure that the presentation is done at time. Plenty of great work has been flushed by toilet just by last-minute panicking. At certain point your presentation is ready and you should always make time for also the rehearsing it. If you are presenting disorganized great thinking you will just seem disorganized, not a great thinker.
9. By going overboard
It is one thing to show that you care compared to showing that you know. It is usually always better to present less slides and leave room for conversation, than try to bore your audience to believe. The pitch is surviving of the fittest: you present only things which are essential in that you win. You do not present things, which are nice add-ons. So leave room for the presentation and do not go overtime.
10. By stressing
I have seen great presentations collapsing because the technology does not work. I think it actually the only thing you should take for granted in every office setting: video projector never works. So prepare for the projector meltdown. We will be assessed by our reaction to that event as well. If you are having nervous breakdown for a mere keynote crushing, how will the client assess your ability to cope in really disastrous situation?

So relax, do your best and kick some butt.

The best way to win pitches is straightforward: Maintaining good personal relationships and having a good reputation. This is achieved by doing damn good work every single day for every single client you have.

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