Pitching new business is my favorite aspect of agency life. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt and the challenge of making a memorable impression with a killer idea.
But while the actual content of the pitch varies by situation and client, there are a few constants and best practices. Knowing these will help to better prepare your team and remove some of the fear. I’ve given thought to what’s worked and what hasn’t from my own experience, and I’ve borrowed and stolen a few ideas from other pitches that have worked.
Get to know the primary client contact ahead of time. What’s her title, responsibilities, and her point of view that is necessitating the pitch? In addition , who else will be in the room, and what do we know about them? Will the decision maker(s) be in the room? (They should/better be.) Knowing these details upfront helps you better prepare and make a lasting impression.
Determine if there’s flexibility for the actual day of week to pitch. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are going to be best. Avoid Mondays if at all possible. The natural rhythm of the workweek puts enough pressure on Monday to begin with, and an agency pitch only adds to that -- for both client and agency. For similar reasons, Fridays also pose a problem. On the one hand, it provides most of the work week to prep. On the other hand, people mentally check out on the last day of the week -- whether they know it or not. This is only exacerbated if it’s a Friday within spitting distance of a holiday.
The Presentation Space
If not at your office, where is the pitch taking place? Try to get access to the location ahead of time, and check it out. Or at least get a good description of it from the client contact. Visualize how it can be used effectively. Can tables and chairs be re-arranged or not? Consider how you could move furniture around to create the best environment for your presentation (i.e., classroom style versus a circle). Lastly, where’s the AV located, and how will that work in respect to organizing the space? And this is one more person you need to get to know beforehand -- the AV person.
What’s the official time limit? Most pitches tend to be 60 to 90 minutes, but always confirm this fact. Also know how strict the time requirements are. Is it OK if things run long? If a procurement or purchasing entity is involved, expect to be timed by the second. One rule of thumb: Allow for at least 25% of the total time for a Q&A or open discussion.
What’s the scorecard or evaluation criteria? Always ask if a copy of it can be furnished ahead of time. The chance of winning the account will be better if the pitch is tailored to clearly addresses the criteria.
2) Casting It Right
Bring in the "Real" People
This is an age-old debate for every pitch I’ve been involved in, but in my opinion, the people who would actually work on the business should be the ones in the room. Period. Most clients will stipulate something to that effect as a pitch requirement, anyway.
For sake of transparency, include content that calls out the broader team that would be involved on the business, and clearly define those individual's roles and relationships to those presenting in the room. But by virtue of being in the room, those pitching the business are committing themselves to a level of direct involvement on the business. No client likes a bait and switch of a “pitch team” versus “the rest of the agency who actually does the work.” A related point is that you need to train your entire staff in the art of the pitch -- but that's a topic for another day.
There's No Room for Silent Roles
Non-speaking roles such as Spear Carrier #8 work well for Shakespeare plays, but not for pitches. If you’re in the room, you need to be involved -- it's that simple. Justifying a non-participatory role as moral support isn’t a compelling enough reason to be in the room.
3) The Rehearsal Process
Practice, Practice, Practice
My own experience says two rehearsals are usually enough. The first rehearsal is a stumble-through, intended for getting an initial feel of the content, flow, and transitions between presenters. It should feel like a horrible, awful train wreck. And it always is. That’s OK. Embrace the horror. Share notes about what worked and what didn’t. The second rehearsal should be timed, incorporating notes from the stumble through. It should feel sharper. Then, if necessary and depending how the team is feeling, conduct a third rehearsal for a final polish.
Focus on Smooth Transitions
Know your own content flow and when you need to hand off your speaking role to others. Your final slide voiceover needs to be a natural segue into what the next speaker will be discussing. Absolutely nothing can derail energy quicker than an awkward or abrupt transition from one speaker to another. It’s probably the most common thing mistake I've seen, and it's really one of the more easy things to address before the pitch.
Develop Questions for Your Team and Questions for Them
Talk through potential questions that could come from the client during the pitch. Decide who will answer them, and then put them on the spot to practice answering the questions succinctly. Also, discuss what questions you’d like to ask the client team. Preparing questions for the client demonstrates your interest in understanding and solving their business challenges, beyond any ideas you’ve shared during the pitch itself.
Work the Deck
If using Keynote or PowerPoint, always test that it’s working on whatever device you’re going to use for versioning and fonts. Run it in presentation mode to make sure animations and videos work. Have a PDF version handy and a copy of it on a thumb drive. And in case technology completely betrays you, bring at least one printed copy of your deck. Also, make sure to bring a power supply, clicker (unless provided), and connector/adaptor cables.
Consider the Wardrobe
Are we pitching to a group of boomer bankers or to a startup full of millennials? While there’s no mandate to coordinate outfits and colors, you do need to dress appropriately for your audience. Find out what the client's work dress code is, and determine an approach with your team during rehearsals.
4) Final Prep
Pre-Visualize the Pitch
Find some alone time, and imagine yourself in the presentation space. Envision the people in the room -- both those you’re presenting to, and those on your own team. Envision yourself delivering the presentation, and the reactions of the client.
Know That a Little Jazz Is OK
This is not an endorsement for the music genre. But like a good jazz piece, every presenter has her own time to solo. During your final prep, give other team presenters the license to jump in and add color while another member is presenting if the commentary enhances or supports a point in the overall pitch narrative. This doesn’t mean you give everyone free license to cut one another off mid-sentence, but if you can perfect these interactions, it shows that your team is actively listening to one another and works well together.
5) Showtime: The Pitch
Engage During the Pre-Show
There usually is time for presentation set-up, and naturally this lends itself to a little pre-pitch client mingling. Don’t be shy. Say "hello" to those in the room. Exchange business cards. Engage in small talk. It will help you to feel more comfortable before getting up on "stage."
Be excited! Stay engaged, and own the time you have. Breathe. Be present, and keep your thinking in the moment. Smiling always helps -- people smile back when smiled to.
Make Eye Contact
Be conscious of who’s in the room, and try to establish eye contact with them as you present. Making eye contact is the most direct way to connect with anyone, under any circumstance.
Read the Room
Always, always allow for some spark of improvisation. Ideas can and will arrive in the moment. Pay attention to them because they might be better than whatever meticulous speaker notes you created. Remember, it’s far more engaging to speak “off the cuff” with a bit of charisma than to recite notes you’ve memorized.
Show Gratitude and Humility
It’s a “please” and “thank you” kind of world. A little humility and graciousness can go a long way. Thank those in the room for the opportunity to be there in the first place.
Ask About the Next Step
Don't act like a used car salesperson, but leave the room with a solid idea of what the next step is, what the timeline for the client's decision looks like, and when you can expect a call.
You and the pitch team will leave feeling both completely exhilarated and exhausted. But you'll all be eager to talk through how everything went. Plan ahead to meet somewhere to relax -- at the office, an airport lounge, hotel lobby, etc. The point is to relax, and discuss what went well, what impressions the team members walked away with, and what could have gone better.
Whether you feel it went well or not, you’re going to remember things you should have said and things you wished you hadn't said. In the end, the pitch is done. Don’t dwell on it. Remind your teammates to look forward as well.
7) The Follow-Up
Send a Thank-You Note
Send a note to those you met in the pitch in addition to the key contact from the client side. If you know the physical address , a handwritten thank-you note is always better than an email.
When you left the pitch, you should have figured out when the client would make a decision. If that date has passed and you haven't received an update, be sure to check in to ask if the client needs any other information.
This post was originally published on Medium. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.
Originally published Jan 26, 2016 9:00:00 AM, updated June 28 2019