On average, ad agencies win only about 25% of the new business pitches they participate in. We pitch and pitch, though the odds are stacked against us.
I know the challenge well. As a former agency president and before that VP of Business Development at another firm, I've spent more than half of my career deeply involved in or responsible for agency pitches. Over the years I learned a lot about how to pitch. I have consulted with agency pitch consultants, debriefed prospects post-pitch and tried to learn from my own mistakes.
Over the last month I was given the opportunity of a business-development executive's lifetime -- I got to sit on the other side of the pitch table. One of my clients asked if I'd stray from my work with digital-strategy development and participate in helping select both a creative-development and web-development agency. They knew my background and figured I might be able to bring a sense of order to what can be a chaotic process from the client's perspective. It was a bit "out of scope," but I had to say yes. And in doing so, I embarked on a journey of discovery full of lessons that I'm guessing some of you in agency land might be keen to hear.
Everything below is based on the post-pitch discussions in the client-selection committee. This is my interpretation of what I heard as I listened and guided the evaluation discussions.
Seven Tips for New-Biz Pitches
Follow instructions. The client gave you instructions for a reason. So follow them. While no one agency was disqualified for "breaking the rules," it was noted and factored into the final decision on whether to go with that agency or not.
Leave-behinds work. After listening to four or five agencies over one or two days, committee members do forget what was presented. Make sure you leave a copy of everything that was presented, either electronically, via an e-mail link to a microsite, or in hard copy. It matters.
Everyone must have a role. In one presentation, the lead account executive who would run the project didn't say a word. The silence was a key point during selection discussions. The client knows that the bigwigs aren't going to be there after the pitch, even when you say you will be, so bring the day-to-day (if asked for by the client) and let him or her speak. If you don't, the client may assume you don't trust them, which causes concerns.
The projector screen isn't hiring you. Don't talk to the screen, talk to the client. I cannot tell you how many presenters spent more time looking at the slides versus making connections with the client.
Show passion or stay home. Passion sells. Not fake passion but real, undeniable passion for the client, category or marketing in general. Passion is contagious and people eat it up. Send your most passionate presenters.
Show, don't tell. I was surprised at how many presenters stated points and expected the selection committee to believe them. No one likes to be sold, so use facts or examples to lead the prospect down your logic trail. If you do it right, they ought to arrive at your conclusion before you do.
Get to the point. If you're going last, get there even faster. We in the agency world forget that while we pitch often, for the prospective client, this is an unusual event. They see this as the beginning of a new tomorrow filled with opportunity. They're excited. And then your agency comes in and spends the first 20 minutes blabbing about yourself or setting up some elaborate "understanding" or something equally not about the task at hand -- and you lose them. Trust me. I watched it happen multiple times in just two pitches.
I had a few other thoughts during those pitches that make this list even longer. if you want to see them, feel free to visit my blog.