Tips For Relieving The Pain of the Pitch

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New-business pitches, like colonoscopies, are periodic, invasive and necessary. They tend to be marked by long days, late nights and bad food. They are a short-term sprint to a shifting finish line where the guy who finished third may actually be declared the winner.

But there are ways to make pitches less painful, more productive and less filled with recrimination and regret. Not to mention resignations. At Arnold, we do our share of shootouts-just ask any of the bleary-eyed talents who work here. Shootouts are a function of time-the less time you have, the more ideas you need to generate in the short term to find an answer. So, do you need every creative team on the floor? Or do you need a smaller group of carefully chosen teams? Teams that can be prolific in the early stages?

Personally, I favor this approach. Grab two, three or four teams you trust, who you know will look at the strategy and the problem from a bunch of different angles and bring back a variety of viable ideas loosely sketched out. (I hope you are blessed to have these kinds of people-we are .) Now, you can pick a direction or two that really looks promising and turn the teams loose again to develop those-whether it was their original idea or not. (I hope you are blessed to have people with this maturity-we are.)

This does two things: it starts to give the pitch focus and it starts to build the opportunity for ownership-and believe me, lack of ownership is the seed from which all bad pitch-related emotions spring. You see, if you just send teams off planning to come back with a full-blown, finished, boarded, mounted, integrated campaign, a couple of things are going to happen. First, each team is going to fall in love with one idea. They're going to stop playing the field of ideas, stop dating other ideas, commit themselves to the one idea and get hitched. And if they're wrong about it, there won't be time for a divorce. (Remember? Lack of time is why we're in this mess in the first place.) Second, it's going to force you into picking one approach and pissing everyone else off, thereby making them useless for the duration of the pitch. And you're going to need them all before it's over.

But here's a somewhat heretical suggestion-the guys who come up with the original kernel of the idea may not actually be the ones best suited to bringing it to life. It's absolutely true, seen it a thousand times. There may be others who, when handed that broad idea, might have a better television execution. And there might be yet another team who has a better way to bring it to life in print. And yet another who instantly understand how to execute the concept in all sorts of ingenious guerrilla marketing ways. And you can keep adding to this dynamic as the pitch warrants-interactive, direct, design, events marketing, etc.

So now, you have a wall full of great work and each team has a piece of the puzzle to own. You have more people involved, more energy flowing into the room, more people trying to find ways to contribute. And that's when, despite all the pressures, pitches can get fun, because it becomes the agency at its purest-talented people trying to come up with the best work they can, to solve a problem and build a presentation that's going to get them all a new, exciting piece of business to work on.

Someday, we'll all die and go to a place where they just hand you business and you never have to pitch again. Until that time, anything that can make the process a little more productive and a little less dehumanizing-I'm all for it.

Jay Williams is group creative director and managing partner at Arnold Worldwide in Boston.

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