In the final episode of the first season of Mad Men, the protagonist is in a meeting attempting to convince Kodak that his agency is the right one to market their new slide machine. The pitch proved so convincing that Kodak barely made it out of the meeting before accepting.
The series is based in the 1960s, but the importance of the pitch has not changed since. It’s one of the few places where a client can be addressed in person and is among the factors an agency can control to a degree when on the quest of winning new business.
While every pitch is different depending on the client and context, Bonnie Robinson, a chartered PR practitioner advisor with over 16 years of industry experience, says there are a number of fundamentals that PR professionals should keep in mind.
Franco D’Onofrio, managing director at Twiga Communications, sees any pitch as consisting of two constituent parts. The first is a clear understanding of the brief and what the client expects. The second is a clear understanding of the target market for the pitched campaign.
“Get the first one wrong, and your pitch is headed for disaster. Once you have assured the client that you have interpreted the brief correctly, it’s imperative to assure them that you know who you are going to be talking to through your campaign,” D’Onofrio says.
As much as a PR professional can get right during a pitch, knowing what can scupper their chance of success carries equal weight.
D’Onofrio says Twiga’s mantra at every pitch is always to under promise and over deliver. Making promises you can keep keeps the client from asking why you failed to deliver. When that happens, your firm’s credibility and client relationship are damaged, and possibly irreversibly so.
“Not being alert in a pitch? Then you don’t belong there and don’t deserve the business,” he says.
For Robinson, the mantra of ‘fail to plan then plan to fail’ hits home.
“Consumer insights: Make sure you are 100% accurate and relevant. Make sure you can back these up with reports and reputable measurement sources,” Robinson advises.
Babbling on about irrelevant information or someone else’s campaign is a one-way ticket to the street, as is badmouthing other campaigns. There is also a distinct difference between a PR pitch and a sales pitch. It is vitally important that a representative from your agency is seen as professional, knowledgeable, and reliable by the client. As Robinson says, first impressions are key to a client’s engagement and confidence in the pitch.
Getting better where it matters most
It is one matter for a firm to be able to be granted a pitch meeting, but how can they better prepare themselves for when that moment arrives?
Robinson says improvement can be found in thinking about how you communicate with your friends, or reading through pitches aloud so the client’s perspective is taken into account, which helps identify problem areas.