We were cramming in extra chairs for a packed-out breakfast session yesterday morning, to hear the honest, and often humorous, insights from our expert panel sharing their pitching stories and lessons learnt along the way. Expertly led by Marjorie Calder, Director of OceanBlue Consulting, presentations and Q&A covered everything from prepping for your pitch to creating the best possible environment to key lessons learnt (often the hard way). Marjorie rather gamely opened the session by sharing some of her pitching horror stories and this set the tone for really honest and insightful presentations and debate.
First up Gregor Matheson - Head of Design at CelloSignal who took us through the journey from the elation of winning the opportunity to pitch to the reality of delivering it. Gregor’s advice was anchored on three key themes:
Qualification: as a team interrogate the opportunity. What will it do for us as a business? How winnable is it? What is the cost of pitching – and not just financial? Will we work well together?
Story Telling: Don’t just present the facts, tell a story. You need to hold their attention and your opening sentence should be compelling. But you must be natural. Practice but don’t be perfect. Use “the fortune cookie principle”.
Divide and Conquer: engage the right people for the pitch – not just who is available. Why wouldn’t you play your best hand at poker? Treat the pitch like a project, it is business critical. Assign roles and make sure everyone is on board and works to the same deadline. Someone needs to own the deck.
There were many nuggets of advice and wisdom from Gregor but coming out loud and clear was the importance of collaboration and team work, a great pitch cannot be put together by people working in silos.
Gregor passed the pitching baton to Melissa Rynn, Digital Innovations & Insights Director and Stuart MacKenzie, Group Account Director Wire who shared their strategies for setting a conducive pitch environment.
Echoing points made by Gregor and Marjorie they opened by referencing one pitch they didn’t win and the reason they didn’t get it was they forgot to be who they were on the day. They didn’t use their personality which is probably what got them to the pitch stage in the first place. Back to the point of being human.
Melissa and Stuart had some key tips to offer. Remember what you can control in the pitch:
- Your environment
- Your personality
A pitch should be a perfect marriage of excitement and assurance.
Wire has a very plain boardroom and this is intentional so that when they pitch there they can curate the room to the client. Leave non-confidential work up and other client pieces so your client feels they are part of something bigger and tip your hat to them with activations, visual displays and even bespoke refreshments.
Don’t forget the basics: make everyone comfortable and make sure there are plenty of refreshments. Make it clear you really like the client and want to work with them. Know them, know their industry. Be passionate. Remember to ask about your client, keep an eye on engagement and be sure to bring in the those that are passive or seem disinterested.
Don’t be afraid to ask the client if there is anything that puts them off working with them, giving you the chance to address these issues in the room.
Building on Gregor’s advice, they also promoted the need to be natural, to have strong teamwork and tell a great story.
At the end of a pitch you should feel exhausted.
Taking a slightly different angle on pitching, last up was Luke Yerbury, Managing Director, Brand Calibre who shared his learnings from pitching for funding. His key learning was that they didn’t actually need the funding. Nevertheless, the process led Luke to building a set of principles which have been useful to activate for all further pitches, regardless of the pitch.
- Make sure you find out exactly what they want
- Consider important information outside the pitch requirement. Show how your business or your ethics may align with theirs so they know you are someone they can trust / work with
- Find out exactly who your audience is (this was also earmarked by Melissa and Stuart)
- Know your numbers. Everyone seems to report money in different ways so do your best to have a good understanding of your own
- Consider very honestly what makes you stand out. Are you really that different from your competitors, and if not work hard to find your USP.
- Deliver your message on time and speak the truth. Don’t fabricate.
Wrapping up the session Marjorie noted that all presentations focussed on humanity and passion. Passion, personality and personalisation ran as themes throughout along with team work and honesty.
A Q&A session followed exploring questions such as:
- Who runs the pitch? Is it the BD team or the deliverers?
- How do you curate the environment when you are pitching in their space?
- How do you strike the right balance about talking about you and asking about them?
- How do you make yourself memorable when on an international pitch.
Naturally this led to much discuss and some great advice but we were out of time. Marjorie closed the session with a final piece of advice: even if you don’t win the pitch, keep the relationship alive as you don’t know what is next. She referenced some of her horror stories and how they had turned into lifelong relationships by following up on the pitch properly and honestly.
A huge thank you to our panel of experts who so generously gave their time and shared their insights and experiences.