Friday 15 February 2013

How to win creative pitches

In another life, I spent five years working as a New Business Director for an advertising agency. Omnicom trained me in the dark art of winning credentials and creative pitches. Now I advise agencies on how to write and structure their pitch documents. Here are a few of the most important principles.

Son of a pitch, this creds needs a theme.
A good salesperson will always have an angle. Before any call, they’ll decide what they’re going to lead with. In branding-speak this is ‘how you position yourself’. But however you want to phrase it, it boils down to deducing what sets you apart from the competition and, more importantly, why this is beneficial for the client.

Out-position, out-fox
Once you’ve decided this, it should become the theme of your pitch. Let me give you an example. We recently advised an agency on a creative pitch for the inflight magazine account for a five-star, Asian airline. Now, there were seven agencies in the running. One was the incumbent with the benefit of being local (more convenient for the client etc.) Another was a big player. Stiff competition then. So what angle was going to out-position these other six contenders?

 Angling for an angle
Well, the place to look for it is in the client need. Five-star airline? They’ll need a five-star inflight mag, won’t they? We studied our client’s history and found that they only produced high-quality, award-winning magazines. So, we positioned them as specialists in five-star publications. They were anyway, it’s just they wouldn’t have talked about themselves in that way. It was a perfect match. And they won the pitch.

Hammer it home
If it’s a creative pitch, put your brand promise on the front cover of your document: ‘Creating a five star in-flight magazine for XXX airlines.’

If it’s a credentials, make the meeting about the promise: ‘How to create a five-star in-flight magazine.’ This affects the way you start the presentation. It might become: ‘What we want to talk about is how we can create a five star in-flight magazine.’

All the skills you want to present are then put in the context of the client’s goal. They become less, ‘Look what we can do’, and more, ‘look what we can do for you’.

Move the goalposts
The beauty of this approach is that it re-frames the client’s decision criteria. Instead of looking for a good design agency, they’re now looking for an agency which is good at creating five-star in-flight magazines. Because your competitors haven’t positioned this way -- or at all -- they’ll struggle to compete.

Fresh eyes
If you’re like most agencies, you’ll find creating angles and positioning your agency quite hard. You’re simply too close to what you do to come up with ideas for how to position yourself for a client. You’ll have been immersed in the brief for too long.

Even if you’ve decided on your positioning, we find agencies like to have us bring an outsider’s perspective to their pitches. It’s good to bounce them off someone who’s done a lot of pitching and knows what works. And besides, just checking your presentation does what you think it does is valuable, giving you more confidence on the day.

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