By Adam Wakefield

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.

A winning recipe

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.

These include keeping the pitch short and simple, pitch the story and not the product, think big picture, show authenticity and consistency, earn the client’s trust, be engaging and direct on the way forward, especially regarding call to action, and be confident, not arrogant.

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.

Never be complacent

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.

Other traps to avoid include: not handing out physical copies of the pitch as hard work and excellent ideas come at a cost, pitching a campaign that has already been pitched elsewhere – an unredeemable sin – and spelling mistakes on any presentation material. There is no excuse for poor syntax and grammar.

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.

“Sign up for a course or two that will strengthen your PR skills and expertise. I always challenge PR professionals to be honest with themselves and stretch their limits,” Robinson says.
Both the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) and ProVox offer courses across all elements of PR. Being a member is also a useful way of meeting other PR professionals and tapping their brains for advice and feedback.
D’Onofrio says the only way to hone any skill is practice but, at the same time, professionals do not want to be involved in pitch after pitch to win new business.
So how do they get better?
“We apply best practice in whatever we do. If we are working with an existing client, and are proposing a strategy for the next campaign, we approach it as if we are pitching,” he says.
The business environment may have changed irrevocably over the last decade, but the importance of face-to-face interaction remains at its core. The pitch is one such arena, and according to Robinson and D’Onofrio, if you are in the arena, you best be ready.