If you haven't read John Steele's Perfect Pitch yet, you should. It's really good and there is something to learn for everyone.
But it has a fatal flaw, as do most marketing type books, it exists in the land of perfect.Or at least the land where you have three months and unlimited research budget. He's candid that process is a myth, and the killer idea comes out of the ether at some point.
But still, it's to get real. In a follow on from The Rules, here's the rules of pitching (tongue in cheek and of course).
An obvious one is get the detail right. You'll find typos in here, as usual, as you'll see from the lack of posting, I'm dead busy (pitching!).
- Don't finish 'the deck' until the latest moment possible. It doesn't matter how long you have to do the pitch, you'll still be fiddling with powerpoint at midnight the night before. There are two possible reasons. The first is the most common, no one really does much of value on a pitch until the moment (a couple of days before mostly) when you realise you've done nothing of value and you're screwed unless you pull a couple of all nighters. The other, extremely devious, is that some bright spark knows that the more time, plus the more people, available for tinkering with a deck, the more it will suffer death of a thousand cuts and end up nothing like it should have..until someone changes it all back at 11.48pm. That's right, you're here at the witching hour because you're totally disorganised, or you are more cunning than a fox and understand the destructive nature of constant meddling.
- Read the bloody brief. Let's be clear, pitch briefs are not worth the paper they're written on. Usually ten pages long, you'll think the only thing of worth is the box at the end titled 'budget'. Your first instinct will be to ignore the brief, but this is the road to abject failure. Someone has spent hours writing something with some killer information and then tried to be really helpful and giving you acres of more detail - burying the real brief by accident. It's a bit that quote from Sliding Doors,"I'm not going to tell you what I want, but I reserve the right to eviscerate you if don't get it".
- Planners get the pizza. When the actual work starts, two days prior to the pitch, there will be one individuals who everyone hates the most. Yep, it's the strategist. After two weeks failing to get an internal brief signed off, thanks to 'input' from the usual pitch committee and the fact no one liked the first three drafts, everyone is blaming you for hell they're currently living. What's making it worse is the fact you don't have much to do now. You've interfered in the creative a bit, or really annoyed the TV planners by asking for a groovy spot partnership they really don't want to do. You've even managed to do your strategy charts in 5 slides without a single graph. So now you're twiddling your thumbs, watching everyone work. So get the pizza in, it's the only thing that can save your relationships. Unless you win the pitch that is.
- Make yourself teflon. You might be 'a team' but when you lose someone will get the blame. Make sure it isn't you. This the only use of senior agency folk. At the right time that is. Show them the strategy as late as possible, leave in a glaring error, let them correct you and think they thought of the whole thing themselves. Show them the deck as late as possible, with another error. Same tactic. The response of the whole team can then be "The CEO signed off on the whole thing". Of course, the CEO will say they took a helicopter view and didn't look at the detail. So you'll need a Plan B. Step forward the internal workshop......
- Use the internal workshop defensively (time for the dark arts of planning) . This is the planners best chance of avoiding the firing line if things go wrong and being the golden child if you win. We all work in agencies now where planning isn't a job title, we're all planners apparently. So do an internal strategy workshop. Don't bother doing any strategy work first, just go through the brief and some early thoughts. If you do some thinking, everyone will shoot it down, because we're all planners now. So draw out all the bad thinking, write a strategy that's good and make it look like it came from the session...and pick the fall guy who will have 'nailed the big thinking' if you lose the pitch. If you win, take credit for everything. Win, win.
- Find out how boring you are. The problem with all those internal reviews and rehearsals is that you're preaching to the converted. The kind of people that are happy to listen to someone talking about brand onions v wheels for twenty minutes, the kind who love to chat about the difference between a bottom up plan or top down. This is not your client. Present to your Mum, wife, partner whatever, or at least someone who isn't involved, see if they get it, how bored they are and how you sound in your head while you're doing it. Trust me, you'll make it shorter and cut out a mountain of rubbish.
- Everyone does the same stuff. Everyone does store visits, every one does some extra research. Everyone is pretty good at what they do. All the agency decks will be variations on the same theme. How on earth will get their attention and win them over? Start by making it shorter. Don't create the deck that makes you really clever, start with the story that will win hearts and minds.
- Winning can mean losing. Sometimes you're so desperate to win, you'll promise the earth. sometimes there are clients that get taken in by a glitzy presentation. Just remember, they'll expect you to follow through, and when you let them down, they won't forgive you. There are plenty of agencies who are great at winning pitches but rubbish at keeping clients. Don't be one of them.
- Bribery always fails in the end. There's always an agency that will undercut the other. Some will even do it for free for a year or something. Imagine the respect people will have for people who value what they do so little they're afraid of charging for it. It's not even worth the brief glow of PR - not when you lose it and it makes a bigger splash then.
- Ignore every other pitch you've done. Look, it's hard enough managing the conflicting enthusiasms of the pitch team, when folks inevitably start firing presentations from the past that went okay, it really isn't helpful. What worked there will not work here. Different client, different organisation, different team. And, let's face it, it won't have been the 'deck' what won it, it will have been some chemistry between the team and the client and massive piece of luck. One pitch I was part of was successful purely because we picked a fantastic piece of music for the TV.
- Don't get too full of yourself. That's right, most pitches are a lottery. So don't get all excited when you win and don't throw around your big win on the next pitch, it will count for next to nothing,
- Leave stuff out. If you want to create a conversation on the day (and you should) leave out the data or the evidence. Just tell them how it is and when they pull you up on it, thank them for asking you and proceed to discuss the facts you have remembered, or noted down. They'll think you know what you're talking about, and won't be numbed by graph after graph. Win, win.
- Shut the hell up. You're throwing your best stuff at folks. You want to impress them. You're nervous. So you talk fast, project with confidence and leave no time for people to keep up. Leave space for your big points. Leave space for conversation. Try and create it.
- Never press for feedback. I lost a pitch because we pressed the kind of organisation for their early thoughts at the end of the meeting. They hadn't any chance to collect their thoughts. Three people were complimentary and gave general pointers about what they liked. Someone else spend 10 minutes going through a ton of small points, stuff he was saying for something to say, he got every else talking, they got more and more negative and you could see them talking themselves out working with us in front of your eyes.
- Avoid tissue meetings. They're the devil. What fool invented these? Probably someone who hated agencies. You have to turn up with a half baked set of ideas, plans, concepts, strategic directions. You can't go full gas, or you'll have nothing to reveal on the big day. You can't show nothing, or they'll be underwhelmed. Somehow you need to reveal stuff and also keep it back. While giving yourself the chance of getting a bum steer and getting it wrong from a client who will change their mind, even worse, you're making yourself to the work too early, now, not only have you ages for meddling CEO's and the like to change lots of stuff, you've given the client the chance - because loads of tissue sessions don't have the organ grinder, just the monkey. Same with Q&A sessions. If you're not meeting the authority to buy, don't bother.
- Pick a team that like each other. Hopefully you can put together a group of people that get along . Harder than it sounds in some places I know (and accept no one will like the planner). Clients buy teams, if they get a good vibe,it can outweigh everything else. If you can't get a bunch of people together that don't despise each other, rehearse to death so it looks like they do.
- Ban the CEO who says 'enjoy it' . As the troops go off into battle, there is always some fool who will say, "Just enjoy it". If you enjoy a pitch presentation, you're either insane or complacent, probably both. It's stressful, it's pressured, you need to be on top of your game. It is many things, enjoyable is not one of them.
- Always go to the pub after. It's just what you do. Remember you're short of sleep and knackered, the drink will go to your head. There's nothing worse than winning pitch and then getting fired for telling your bosses what you really think of them because you drank your beer too quick.
- Observe correct casting. Every pitch needs a pitch leader, someone who can make decisions, a benign dictator - not someone who can only dictate. The people who actually implement stuff - the creative folks, the TV buyer for example, make sure they have to go. These people can be quite glacial, especially when they know the pressure is on you. Tell them they're coming and they'll melt like warm Nutella, and also work that little bit harder. Now isn't the time to be nice thought, if someone can't present, don't let them come.
- No bullet points. You don't want them to read stuff, you want them to be looking at you and your team. Charts should illustrate what you're saying, not get in the way.
- Lots of pictures, less words. Pitches are done by committee.You will argue over words, even A WORD. It's harder to dismiss a picture that can carry a few general points.
- No one cares about the agenda. Don't bother with one.
- Make sure you can work the laptop. You'd be surprised.