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Welcome To The New Pitch Normal

Has pitching changed forever? What behaviours have changed, and what will prevail? We spoke to the industry to find out more

By ian darby

Pitching for new business is an important part of the ad industry’s make-up and stories abound of the high levels of theatre and legendary presentations from maverick creative directors over the years. However, much of that performance aspect of new business selection was lost in the past 18 months as pitches went virtual and Zoom presentations replaced elaborate physical shows conducted in plush office suites.

The new business market itself is recovering to something like its pre-Covid buoyancy (agency appointments rose by 12 per cent in the first half of 2021, according to AAR Group). But, as both clients and agency people return to their offices, and to some level of physical interaction, what will become the new pitch normal? Has something been lost that needs reintroducing to the process – a balance of physical and virtual presenting, for instance, or a renewed emphasis on strategy in place of the big, glitzy creative reveal?

Zoe Harris, chief marketing officer, On the Beach

"It’s fascinating to wonder how many past pitches would have had different outcomes had they been held virtually rather than physically (or vice versa).

"In my view, it’s much harder to rely on, or judge real-world 'chemistry' in virtual meetings, which raises a few interesting questions:

  • Does good chemistry deliver better work for the business once the pitch is over?

  • Does good chemistry influence your analysis of the work presented?

  • Does chemistry really mean 'people like me', and therefore minimise the diversity of thought and approach in agency teams, ultimately reducing the quality of work ultimately produced?

"It remains to be seen how we all work together once we are post-pandemic, but it seems a safe enough bet to assume that post-Covid we’ll all be doing a lot more virtually. So, working out how you work together virtually is probably as important a part of the pitch process as it is seeing how you do face-to-face."

Jo Coombs, chief operating officer, Publicis Groupe UK

"My fear is that pitches revert back to the way they were and all the bad habits of agencies and clients return. Flying around the world, lots of theatre, unrealistic timings and black box working. My hope for future pitches is that the Covid legacy is bravery: braver agencies and braver clients. I hope that agencies continue to say 'no' more often. Not just to do the pitch, but NO to going back to the old way of doing pitches. And braver clients, who think differently about value, who ditch the pricing grids and push for partnership from their agency.

"However you run your pitch, people buy people so both sides should push for a process that stress tests that - workshops, 24-hour turn arounds, testing how both parties work remotely as well as in person. Driving change within the industry is the job of the brave. There is always an agency prepared to go rock bottom or do 150 submissions and meetings, and always a client asking for it. It’s not brave and it’s not smart, it’s short-termism and it will destroy ideas that unlock real growth."

Angus Crowther, founding partner, Alchemists

"Pitching has become more fluid and less rigid in terms of process. We’re trying to avoid huge RFIs that don’t get read, and do the hard work of selecting agencies upfront so that we can get straight into the opportunity with agencies who have been very carefully vetted and selected. There will definitely be a mix of virtual meetings, and then face to face meetings where it’s essential. Doing a first chemistry meeting virtually is a bad idea because you pick up on all the small facial gestures and nuances that get in the way.

"But I think the over-reliance on too much theatre, and balloons and fireworks, just ridiculous stunts, had got too much - there is a place for that if it’s done well but not to the extent it was. But actually we’re also finding the final pitch can be the chance for another working session where you give each other feedback rather than the final polished presentation, the last 18 months have meant that you can keep talking, keep giving feedback."

Neil Henderson, chief executive, St. Luke’s

"Pitching on Zoom has been a revelation. You can definitely build chemistry, there’s no sacrifice in terms of presenting strategy, understanding the client, and presenting creative work. We’ve gone onto create campaigns like Ocado and Beavertown based on this, all done with barely meeting the client. That just shows you what’s possible, and I don’t think there’s any compromise.

"Of course, it’s great to meet clients at some point but, in terms of pitching, you can absolutely continue to do it virtually. But, to do this successfully, you have to be incredibly well organised, and you have to rehearse, and the deck has to be really, really clear. A pitch is mostly about making sure the creative work actually reflects the strategy and when it doesn’t it’s pretty obvious but in face-to-face meetings you can kind of work around that with theatre and people’s charisma. When all that gets taken away there’s much more focus on the idea."

Victoria Fox, chief executive, AAR Group

"For any client, their agency search should be about finding the team to work with rather than a pitch process to find an answer. The emphasis needs to be on two-way 'chemistry'. We are sure that all parties will want to return to initial chemistry meetings and final 'presentations' being in person as there is no doubt that compatibility is better assessed by people being in the same room.

"Additionally, from an agency perspective, it is undoubtedly preferable not to have share creative work online, with all its potential glitches. However, we see several interim stages (briefing, work in progress etc.) continuing to be run virtually, as these have benefited from moving online (for example, recording sessions to allow clients to reflect back on meetings and give fuller feedback). Pitching remotely has led to at least three changes which should be adopted going forward. Firstly, a re-emphasis on the work rather than “pitch theatre”, secondly agencies being more selective on the opportunities that they accept and, finally, re-thinking a ‘one size fits all’ approach and ensuring any process is appropriate to the size of the prize."


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