The joy of pitching – 10 ways to get the job

I love pitches.  I like doing the pitching, and I like being pitched to.  I like getting a new brief, working out the idea that unlocks the puzzle and thinking about how to deliver it.  I like the teamwork that goes into putting a proposal together.  I like the nerves before the start and the blissed-out half  hour when it’s over.  And when I’m on the client’s side, I like seeing the different answers people offer to the same question.

I spent a day being pitched to by PR agencies yesterday.  It was, as always, fascinating and made me think about the basic stuff everyone should remember before they fire up the PowerPoint and go:

1. Answer the brief you’ve been given – not the one you’d like to have been given.  But…

2. Think outside the brief.  What is the client looking for beyond what’s actually in the tender document?  Longevity? New relationships? Skills transfers from your team to theirs? Can you see the thing they need that they don’t even know they want yet? Tell them about it.

3. Be surprising.  Don’t put in the first thing you think of, that’s likely to be the dullest answer – and the one everyone else comes up with.  Use the flash of inspiration that comes next, when your brain’s had time to mull over the problem for  a while.  That’s the answer that’s authentically yours, the one no-one else will think of.

4.  Be yourself.  You’re going to be working closely with your new clients, they need to be comfortable that you’re going to get on.

5. Get as much information as you can about the client and their industry before you start. ALWAYS go to the Q&A session if there’s one on offer – it’s not only polite, it also might offer you the vital clue you need to tackle the brief.  And you need to know what your competitors know, too.

6. Don’t expect your audience to be mind-readers.  You might think it’s obvious that you’ll cover the nuts and bolts of the job, but if you don’t say you will your clients might think you can’t be bothered with the basics.

7. Show you’ve thought about the audience – being able to build and manage new channels or produce celebrities at the drop of a hat is only impressive if they’re the right channels – and celebrities – to reach the audience the client wants to talk to.  This isn’t an opportunity to show off everything you know, it’s a chance to show how cleverly you can match your expertise to your potential client’s needs.

8. Show you’ve thought about the audience in the room, too.  As the client, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re watching four or five PowerPoint presentations in a row.  Mix up how you present – use props, good visuals, video, audio – one of the best presentations I’ve seen (not from yesterday’s crop) included filmed vox pops with the target audience to show that the agency knew who they needed to talk to and understood the issues.  Be entertaining, be conversational, be enthusiastic, look people in the eye, SMILE.  (Oh, and if you’re going to use PowerPoint, check your spelling and find someone who knows how to use apostrophes to give it the once over.)

9.  Think on your feet.  The client’s questions at the end inevitably bring up issues you haven’t thought of – else you’d have put them in the presentation and they wouldn’t ask the question.  Working out an answer as you speak, asking them questions to clarify what they mean  and picking up the clues they give out are just as important as hitting on the “right” answer.  Your job is to prove that you’re quick on the uptake and flexible enough to cope with new ideas.

10.  Don’t forget about the numbers – budget breakdowns, evaluation methods, targets.  They may be broad, and you might have to qualify them later, but they’ll help the client understand that you care about being business-like as well as being creative.

And that’s all there is to it.

They were a good bunch yesterday.  Now, I need to stop prevaricating and work out who I’m going to recommend gets the job…


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