Chocolate Biscuits and Losing Pitches.

Last week I went to a pub quiz with some mates.
I was on fire. The whole ‘I’m not as think as you drunk I am’ Team was on fire.
Which Friends actor is youngest? Easy: Matthew Perry. Tallest mountain the world? It’s Mauna Kea (tallest, not highest. Trick question, see?). This was in the bag.
Results time. The QuizTeam Aguileras (ugh, so old!) cheered as their name was called out first for having come in woefully – almost intentionally – last. The final three. Third place… Ken Dodd’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead – medium-to-strong cheer. First place… drum roll please… breaths held… The Agatha Quizties.
No!
The shame! The humiliation! Those high-brow bastards with their high-brow quiz name had won! They’d probably cheated anyway. Probably. And the Aguileras won a bottle of booze or something or rather just for coming last!
And so it struck me – as Martin Jones and Paul Phillips of the AAR shared their insights into pitching at their NABS Tuesday Club Talk – coming second is RUBBISH. Sometimes, even worse than coming last. Whether it’s in a pub quiz on Essex Road, a silver in Rio, or ‘a close second’ on the pitch; almost-but-not-quite is a tough pill to swallow.
So what are Martin and Paul’s top tips for pitch-side success? With 4,000 pitches between them, their’s not much they don’t know about the countless hazards agencies face, or the unexpected foibles that make prospective clients squirm.
Like typos.
Did you spot it in the previous paragraph? If you’re like me, you should, quite rightly, hate me by now. What excuse do I have for a typo in a blog?! None. Yet typos, or even more inexcusably, an incorrect logo, job title, or a poorly bound deck are some of the tiny yet vital triggers clients are looking out for to cross you off their list.
Because that’s exactly what they’re looking for. Any reason to make their lives easier. To remove an agency from the equation for some seemingly minor, trivial error. But is it trivial? If there’s one thing I learnt listening to these two pitching supremoes, it’s what something apparently trivial can imply:
  • - Using the old company logo? Not thorough enough.
  • - Asking me if I’ve had to come far to get here? Not bothered to find out where I work.
  • - Keep interrupting each other? Not a team.
  • - Loads of huge, successful accounts you want to tell us about? Congrats, not going to have much time for me though, are you?
  • - Lots of experience in my sector? That’s nice, but we don’t want to be like all our competitors.
  • - Meeting starts right on the hour? Not interested in spending five minutes breaking the ice.
  • - These are your amazingly successful case histories? God, it’s like looking at pictures of my friend’s kids.
  • - Chocolate-less biscuits? Well, you’re clearly monsters.
Most agencies are pretty brilliant at what they do. That’s obvious. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t exist. So the chances are out of five pitching agencies, at least four will answer the brief well. Three on a bad day. So how is the client going to cut the pack down?
Chemistry. It’s so important.
If genius is – as Thomas Edison said – 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration, then winning pitches is 10% what you say, 90% how you say it. What strikes Martin and Paul at every pitch they’re involved in is how the client will always post-rationalise. If they like YOU, then the fact that your agency is big, or small, or smells nice, or some other idiosyncrasy will be exactly the thing they’re looking for. If they’re not feeling it, your big, stinky business will be just the thing they don’t want.
But anyway, forget all that. If there’s one thing Martin and Paul, and by extension I would like to impart… if there’s just one thing you should take out from all this, it’s this:
In your pre-pitch prep sessions, always, ALWAYS order the pizzas 30 minutes before you get hungry.
You’ll thank us.
Do you have any thoughts on effective pitching and the little things that make clients fail or sail? Please leave me a comment below.
Watch an excerpt from the talk here.
The AAR are leading experts in client/agency relationships, specialising in helping marketers and their agencies to find each other, work together, and get the best out of their partnership with each other. Martin Jones is managing partner and Paul Phillips is managing director.
Tuesday Club Talks are NABS’ monthly talks featuring leading advertising and non-industry speakers, thinkers and practitioners, covering a huge array of topics and themes.

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