Lessons for advertisers and agencies from the frontline of a remote, hands-free, online pitch

The health and safety impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt globally. No more so in marketing, media and advertising than when it comes to the pitch. Reports suggest a more than 50% drop in brands tendering their agencies year-on-year. But in the past few months we have continued to manage agency pitches and tenders with modification to ensure the health and safety of all involved. 

The biggest mistake both marketers and agencies can make is to think that the pitch process can continue, simply substituting video conferencing for face to face meetings. Our experience during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and based on many years of managing geographically distributed pitches, is that you need to rethink the pitch process, but focusing on the core requirements of a successful outcome, while working within the limitations of the communication channels. 

These are our recommendations for advertisers managing and agencies participating in remote, hands-free, COVID-19 compliant, creative, digital and media pitches.

For agencies

1. Start with the basics and get your IT sorted

Use a video conferencing platform that suits your style of presenting. And whilst they all seem to be similar, there are a few nuances depending on how your agency likes to present or discuss things. You can usually provide instructions whilst on the call however be aware of the different options.

If you have numerous people on the call and many of you talk during the conversation – using a platform that swaps around the pictures of people talking can be quite distracting and hard to watch, even if it is just on the side of a presentation.

Demonstrating the chemistry of the agency team can be shown by using the format where everyone’s picture is on the one screen, and the client can see you interacting together despite being in different locations. It also helps to have the client visible so you can gauge reactions to conversations and ideas, the same as you would in a presentation. Test your teams’ internet connections prior to online sessions so no one starts breaking up or freezing.

2. Timing is even more crucial online

The shorter sessions online mean you need to get your thoughts and ideas across quickly and clearly, allowing time for discussion along the way as well as at the end. Finding the right balance between the time used to present, chat and answer questions can make a huge difference to the overall feel of the session.

However if you do one thing – allow enough time at the end for the client to provide feedback on what you’ve presented. It’s not as easy to see the client’s reactions and you want to make sure you’re clear on the direction heading into the next round.

3. Bring your personality and agency style

We’ve seen some agencies do this well in an online pitch, where the session is upbeat, entertaining as well as covering all the requirements.  Breaking up the session with a mix of slides, videos, music and presenters not only makes the session enjoyable for the client, it helps showcase your ideas and makes your agency more memorable.

4. Build virtual relationships

It’s not the face to face pitch presentations or workshops where you have contact with the client, but you can still build a relationship with them. Use every avenue you can to build rapport, whether it be the few minutes waiting for everyone to join the video call, emails to confirm they received the presentations or ideas, questions or comments on feedback. All of this can still create a bond between the 2 parties if done well. 

For advertisers

1. Clarity and timing of stages

Like you would in a normal face to face pitch scenario, be clear about the different stages of the pitch. Outline when they are, how long the video sessions will be, the requirements for each stage, and who will be attending from the client side. This gives the agency time to plan the dynamics of each session. 

2. More but shorter sessions

Regardless of the normal timing for the various stages of a pitch, whether it be credentials, a strategy session or a creative presentation – make your online sessions shorter, way shorter.  In this time of Covid-19 we all know how draining video sessions can be, so make them sharper, more concise, and focused – both the agencies and clients will enjoy them more.

Because they’re shorter, you may need to break some stages into 2, allowing the agencies to build the relationship with more time together and check in on where they’re headed.

3. Energy

Sounds obvious but keep your energy levels up during the video sessions.  Agencies presenting via video can still sense your body language and appreciate your comments throughout the session proving you are not only listening but are engaging with them as well.

Leave enough time in between different agency sessions (if on the same day) to be able to regroup and be fresh for each agency. This is not the time to give the agencies your best Easter Island statue impersonation.

4. Feedback

We’ve seen this work really well in our online pitches. If the client can provide instant and concise feedback based on what they’ve seen or heard – it helps focus the agency on what they’re expecting for the next round.  These discussions also help to build the relationship between the 2 parties creating more of a normal meeting feel.

The future

Interestingly, there is much speculation regarding the future, post pandemic and what the new ‘normal’ will be. The issue here is that the timeline for the transition from the current lockdown to a more ‘normal’ operating environment will vary significantly from market to market. With estimates of international, cross-border travel not resuming for six to 12 months or more, then it could be that this remote, hands free approach to agency tenders and pitches will become the new norm. 

If advertiser and the agencies embrace the technology, rather than simply use it as a replacement for face to face meetings, then there are many benefits beyond the immediate need to maintain health and safety. We believe that many of the elements of this approach, bought about by a global pandemic, have significant merit in reducing time and therefore cost to agencies and advertisers, while also increasing the opportunities for considering agencies further afield. 

As we develop these techniques for remote and hands-free pitching further, we intend to share the findings and insights with you here. In the meantime, if you have any ideas or suggestions you would like to offer, please feel free to contact us.

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