10 sure-fire ways to get thrown off a pitch shortlist

Decided you really don’t want to win the business? Prefer to go with a bigger category brand instead? But too chicken to say so directly? Okay then. Let us save you the embarrassment.

Here are ten sure-fire ways to get thrown off a pitch shortlist. Believe us – they work like a dream.


Hire a consultant with some ‘specialised industry knowledge’ to do your talking for you, then agree with whatever he or she says. (Make sure you only hire freelance though. You definitely won’t want him or her hanging around afterwards. These people are really annoying.)


Agree an agenda. Then make sure your senior player ignores it completely. And just for good measure, point this out now and then, with a mix of weak humour and desperation. (I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen this succeed.)


Bring along at least three people to say nothing in the presentation. But do make sure they nod a lot, and smile a lot, and make really energetic notes whenever a client makes a comment.


Make sure your team can laugh knowingly when you mention some self-indulgent aspect of your ‘agency culture’. Wacky photos of your ‘amazing’ agency parties are great for this. You’ll be out of there in no time.


Talk about how ‘unique’ your agency is. Mention your ‘results focus’, or your ‘collaborative approach’, or your ‘digital yet full service ethic’ – any of these should do nicely.


Build a jokey, superficial ‘rapport’. (Very big in the eighties, now sadly underrated as a chemistry destroyer.) Vigorous handshakes, loud laughter, weak jokes – these are all fantastically, utterly transparent. A real pitch killer.


Wheel out the clichés. A few ‘death by Powerpoint’ jokes can help keep things on track. And saying ‘without further ado’ a few times is always brilliant. Brilliant. Oh – and don’t forget ‘marketplace’. Oh yes. We all love that one.


Case studies. Lots of them. None of them relevant, of course. Preferably told in painful, forensic detail by someone personally involved. And with commercial results which are – of course – confidential. (Ah. That ‘confidential’ line. Gets ’em every time.)


Spend at least ten minutes messing around unsuccessfully with the presentation equipment. Preferably over a laptop in a huddle of two or three with puzzled expressions. Failing that, disappear under the table and try to re-connect stuff with your backside in the air. Great for destroying confidence. If you can’t show a simple presentation, they’re not going to trust you with a million bucks of production budget are they? (This is gold, you know. Gold.)


Just lose interest halfway through. If everything else is going far too well, and it looks like you might even go through to the next stage, this is your ace in the hole. Look around, glaze over, play with your phone, or just go quiet. Works instantly if you’re the pitch leader. And if you can come across as slightly arrogant when you pull this one, then even better.

There. Use any of these in your next new business meeting and you’ll save everyone a lot of time this year.

Have I missed any great pitch killers? Let me know with a comment.

7 thoughts on “10 sure-fire ways to get thrown off a pitch shortlist

  1. How about this one? Show your lack of care by displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of the clients business and brand.

    True story: a London agency was pitching for the Laura Ashley business.

    The ECD opens the pitch: "Laura Ashley is an iconic English brand…"

    The client interrupts: "We're actually Welsh."

  2. RE item 5, if your agency isn’t unique by standing out in 1 or more ways from your competition — and you don’t highlight that in your pitch — I would suggest that you are making a big mistake.

  3. Cram as many slides as possible into the presentation and make them as generic as possible so you can use the same slide set for any pitch.

    1. Hi Anne, I remember a pitch we managed many years ago in Melbourne and the client's office looked straight down Clarendon Street towards the agency's office. Clarendon Street was unusually clear with no traffic and yet the agency turned up almost 30 minutes late saying they got caught in traffic. Go figure. We could see their office and clearly they must have taken the scenic route.

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