This post is by Jeremy Taylor, Managing Director at TrinityP3 UK and founder of specialist communications company Connect2 Community Engagement. He and the TrinityP3 team will be happy to tell you more about how to avoid committing these terrible sins and how to engage yourself in a positive and gainful pitch process.
TrinityP3 UK is a founder signatory of the Pitch Positive Pledge launched jointly by the IPA and ISBA in May 2022. We are strong supporters of the Pledge’s objective to reduce the negative effects of the traditional pitch process on the mental health of staff as extra workloads and unreasonable deadlines are imposed on agency and client teams alike.
As a contribution to industry-wide improvements in the pitch process, we are preparing a series of papers to act as guides to making the most of the process. Our 20-year experience of running pitches around the globe has given us plenty of insight into what can go wrong. And getting it wrong is a major contribution to wasted time, effort and resources – so we would like to share some of our knowledge with the industry.
Chemistry – industry lifeblood
Being invited to take part in a Chemistry meeting with a prospective new client is a major buzz for any agency. It doesn’t matter if it came via a consultant or directly from the client marketing or procurement team, it’s the opportunity to strut your stuff, demonstrate what makes you great and show off your best work. Everyone starts with the best intention to do a great job and ‘wow’ the client team with the best presentation and meeting they can make.
Somehow, other stuff gets in the way and time starts to run out. Focus can easily come off the opportunity and it doesn’t necessarily end up the way the agency first thought it would. Gradually a thought can grow in the agency’s mind, which goes something like – “Hey, any presentation is better than none, and we employ some of the best presentation buskers in the business, so it will all be fine on the day. What could go wrong?”.
Here are seven ways in which this can go badly wrong, and seven reasons why that thought should be banished from everyone’s mind, immediately.
DEADLY SIN #1 – NOT READING THE BRIEF
You meant to. In fact, you’d swear blind you did and you even marked it up with a yellow highlighter pen. But did you? Did you really read it? Did you ever look at it again?
The brief is what you are going to get marked against. It’s full of clues about what the client wants to hear from you, it should have some good insights about the product or service, its history, the market and the objectives of the pitch. If it doesn’t you should send it back or ask for a full briefing.
But here is what often happens. The agency fallback position goes straight to the creds deck. It has to be presented right, otherwise, how will they know how big we are, what range of services we offer, who our clients are, how much we bill, and what awards we have won? Got to go through all that, otherwise, it just won’t seem right. Then we can put up the showreel, show some case histories and job done.
Wrong. You’ve got a set time to make an impact and fulfil some criteria you are going to get marked on. The essential facts are on your website and have already been read, or can be sent as a document ahead of the meeting. You’ve just wasted twenty minutes or more of your hour. So – avoid Deadly Sin #1 and make sure you read the exam question before you pick up your pen.
DEADLY SIN #2 – NOT READING THE ROOM
You can read about your audience and the individuals you will be meeting on LinkedIn and see where they’ve been and what they’ve done. In fact, you probably have and your first reaction when you meet them is to wonder how old that profile picture is. But that does not constitute reading a room.
It’s easy to tell when you’re losing an audience. Even if you are on your own, you have to keep half your brain watching the people you are presenting to, and if there are lots of you there, you can brief one team member to do almost nothing else. That way you can spot the expressions, the body language and the actions that give you clues as to how things are going. Even if the room is a screen, the rules apply.
If it’s going badly, be ready to work out why – you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and you need to put it right. Take steps to address the problem. Ask some questions. Involve the audience in the process. We’re often told that it’s an agency skill to be able to think on your feet, so this is your chance to do it, otherwise, you are just rapidly cruising towards an iceberg.
DEADLY SIN #3 – ONLY TALKING ABOUT YOU. NOT THE CLIENT
Closely related to Sin #1 – your audience wants to hear what it is you can do for them to help with the objectives they have told you about. They really don’t want to hear about what you did for somebody else in a different market. The only way that’s useful is that it gets them thinking about how it might apply to their own situation. So, make it easy for them, and demonstrate how that might work. Was it the insights behind the campaign, the specialist skills that got you there? You have to think yourself into the audience’s shoes.
DEADLY SIN #4 – TOO MUCH TO GET THROUGH
This one is also known as having too many charts. If you have sixty charts and thirty minutes to present them, it just is not going to happen. There is plenty of expert advice available on writing great charts and presenting them well, including how long it takes to present each one, so read up on it.
Trying to present too much – it’s a trap that you fall into faster and faster as your hour draws to a close with everybody getting increasingly worried, talking ever more quickly, and then – before you know it, you only left two minutes for questions. Oops.
DEADLY SIN #5 – NOT REHEARSING
Surely the most basic error of all. Everyone knows that you have to rehearse, and if you don’t every other deadly sin will show up and double in impact. But so many don’t do it and it always shows, even if you think you are the best presenting team in the business. All the best show business stage acts you have ever seen rehearse everything, even the ad-libs. Please learn the lesson.
DEADLY SIN #6 – OVERRUNNING
This is a by-product of Sins 4 and 5. Too much to say – you won’t have time to say it. Do not depend on being so fascinating that you will get extra time to carry on. However great you are your audience has a full day’s schedule to get through. Is there a hard stop? There always is. And if you didn’t get to a discussion, you’ve really blown it because chemistry is about interaction, not a one-way process.
DEADLY SIN #7 – NOT SETTING YOUR OWN MEETING OBJECTIVE
This is the most common sin that we come across. There is an assumption somewhere that the objective should be to tell the client as much as possible about the agency in the time allotted for the Chemistry meeting. It is not.
Before you start planning the presentation, ask yourself the key question. What do we need to get out of this meeting? The answer is not necessarily ‘the business’ – that’s the end game for the whole pitch process. For this meeting, it is to get to the next stage of that process. You’ve probably been told in the brief what that is, so make sure all your efforts at each stage are focussed on getting go the next stage.
SEVEN DEADLY WORDS
I’m using the word ‘sins’, but, in reality, the seven situations described here are traps that the unwary fall into. The pressure of other work, lack of preparation time through over-tight deadlines, poor briefing complacency and over-confidence from the agency team are all contributing factors, so be wary of them all while preparing for and presenting at Chemistry sessions.
You will know very quickly once the meeting starts if you have already stumbled into one of these traps. The way you know is because you or one of your co-presenters will use this phrase – and these are the seven words no audience ever wants to hear:
“I’ll just go through this really quickly”
Never say it, and never do it. If you are rushing, you’ve probably already lost the audience. Take ‘avoiding action’ beforehand by being aware of the Sins, and keep your audience engaged and involved.