Pitch Tips For Clients

For more than 20 years, I’ve had the chance to sit on both sides of a pitch. As a writer, creative director and the head of a few agencies, I’ve been on the agency side. Then, as a search consultant, I’ve been on the other side.

Writing in this space in the issue of Oct. 25, I outlined 15 things agencies should keep in mind as they prepare for the presentation at pitch meetings. Here are 15 things clients should do:

1. Ask who did which work on the agency reel. Any agency can string together a bunch of good spots. The point is, for a big agency, which office did the work, and, for a small agency, are the people who did that work still there?

2. Advertising is still handmade, and it matters whose hands you will be in. Ask which creative people will actually be working on your business. You might even want to see their personal reels. Day to day, it’s going to be their personal taste that you will rely on.

3. In a large agency, a creative group is like a small agency within a larger structure. What other work comes out of that group? Do you like the work it puts out? Perhaps you will want to see every ad that the group produced during the last month. It might give you a truer sense of the work they do.

4. If there is a particular campaign you love, see if those people can work on your account. If you love Goodby’s Saturn work—and who wouldn’t—perhaps you can get the same team to work on your business.

5. Make yourselves available all the time. Agencies should have questions to ask you as they go along. You will always know more about your business than they do. See who asks for more information. It indicates the level of interest and if you are treated like part of the team.

6. Make the review your highest priority. Yes, I know there are a million other things going on. But your advertising is your face to the world. While the chief marketing officer runs the show, it’s worth all of the input and feedback from the entire executive team. They should buy in now so they will buy in later.

7. Don’t fall in love with just one campaign. Sometimes that campaign might not ultimately turn out to be the right answer, so look for ideas in the entirety of the pitch. And also:

8. Don’t fall in love with just one person. It might be an account person or a creative person whom you really connect with. But that person might leave the next day. So make sure you marry the entire agency.

9. Whom do you feel comfortable with? This is very subjective, but sometimes there is just a comfortable ease that doesn’t feel forced. Even if the creative work you see isn’t exactly right, you still know that you will enjoy working with these people to get to the final destination.

10. Let yourself be blown away. Sometimes agencies are just dead-on. Everything works, and you love the chemistry. Don’t be stoic and show a poker face. Enjoy the moment. Years ago, I saw Wieden make a perfect pitch—the work was brilliant, and they had gotten Joe Pytka to shoot a spot for them. There was no need to be coy. They got hired the same day.

11. Sometimes it’s best to ignore your own rules. If you tell an agency not to show creative work, don’t penalize them if they do. Don’t try to squelch their enthusiasm. If you want to ignore it, fine. But let an agency have its creative outlet. It’s just how they work. When they get ideas, they want to show them.

12. Know how to look at creative work. Do you like it just because it’s funny? Do you like it because it fits your preconceived notions of what you wanted? Is it the right campaign for the long run? Be an intelligent consumer of the creative work.

13. This isn’t pin the tail on the donkey. Don’t tease an agency by not telling them everything you know. Your goal is to get perfect pitches by all of the finalists. Help them get to that point.

14. Kick the tires of a campaign. Is it really as solid an idea as it looks at first? Hopefully the agency has found the big idea. But are you sure you know how to recognize it?

15. A chief marketing officer should become a good student of advertising. Watch the spots you like on the air, and figure out how they got to that point. How did they execute it? Look for that same thinking during the pitches.

Lastly, for both sides, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. The agency has knocked itself out. Clients should appreciate the work they do. Don’t wander out to take phone calls. Pay attention. For agencies, don’t be condescending. The clients may not be as creative as you are, but they might be able to recognize a great idea and great work when they see it.