Decoding the perfect creative pitch

Pitching, a process that started merely to compare creative services, has today become a phenomenon deciding the fate of agencies. The big question is – what comprises a perfect creative pitch? e4m dissects the anatomy of a perfect pitch...

e4m by Deepika Bhardwaj
Updated: Jun 20, 2011 3:46 PM
Decoding the perfect creative pitch

“Pitching represents about 10 per cent of working life (for an agency) but its success or failure impacts 100 per cent of the business.”

Pitching, a process that started merely to compare creative services, has today become a phenomenon deciding the fate of agencies, with millions of dollars riding on it. As the market gets more competitive and witnesses information overload, every marketer is looking for unique and clutter breaking solutions. Pitching is the window for an agency to the client’s world, and a perfect pitch gets them entry into that world.

The big question: What comprises a perfect creative pitch?

There are no definitive answers, but here’s an insight into some crucial factors that can make all the difference.

Perfect Brief
This is where it all begins. The client must start with equality. The ideal scenario would be when the client invites all agencies at the same time, and gives the same brief to all. The client also needs to be clear on the objective of his campaign or communication exercise. Unless there is clarity on the client’s final objective, ideas that align to that target, cannot be born.

Naveen Arora, who heads marketing for a leading telecom company, advised, “An agency should demand the brief to be in a particular format. The brief should specify advertising needs, objectives, target audiences, budget, timetable and relevant background information. This helps the agency in better comprehension of the brief and ensures a smooth evaluation process. Each agency is then assessed on pre-designated points, conveyed to every agency in the same way.”

Arora cautioned that if a marketer does not define the brief in a specific format, there can be instances when communication is added or subtracted, while speaking to different agencies at different times. In cases, where the marketer does not offer the brief in a specified format, the agency should get back to the client with questions that clarify basic parameters of evaluation.

A clear brief also sets the expectations right. As there is no provision of a pitch fee in India, pitching process is a costly affair for every agency. Setting expectations right is the onus of clients, believes Nirmalya Sen, Managing Director, TBWA\India. He added, “Clients must give an honest estimate of the budget with the brief. This helps avoid heartburn later. Pitching for new business is very expensive for most agencies. Clients should only invite agencies if they would ultimately be happy to appoint them.”

Sync Needed: Passion & Comprehension; Creative & Strategy
“An Idea can change your life”. And the best ideas come when the agency is passionate about the client’s work. Industry leaders endorse passion and understanding client’s brand better than even the client if possible, as necessary ingredients while pitch preparation.

Ketan Desai, Branch Head, Grey Delhi asserted, “Nothing wins clients over like an agency that shows passion for their business. Demonstrate that you have understood the business thoroughly, and have not left any stone unturned before presenting the strategy and creative.”

A better understanding of the business includes understanding consumers, competition and business imperatives. Jaibeer Ahmad, VP, Saatchi & Saatchi India added, “You have to understand the intention of the brand behind seeking a creative partner. Only then you can be sure of working in the right direction, else your efforts are wasted.”

The sync between creative and strategy is another must in obtaining the above two points. Amitesh Rao, Director, Brand and Media, MTS India, pointed out, “A strategic analysis should form the rationale behind the creative expression. There are no rights or wrongs here, but if there is an element of subjectivity behind the creative, it results in high quality work.”

Whatever it Takes
Elaborating on the art of pitching, in Andrew Jeffe’s book ‘Casting for Big Ideas’, Lee Clow, one of the founders and creative heads of TBWA\Worldwide, said: “Don’t spend too much time trying to figure out what the client wants to hear. Figure out what you have to tell them.”

Brands welcome disruptive ideas, as simply doing what others do is usually a put off for them. Arora reasserted, “There is no rule that makes it mandatory for a brand to have tagline or sign-off line just because every other brand has it. Agencies usually start from there. Does it mean Coke and Pepsi, who change their tagline every year, are not brands?”

It is important for agencies to come up with unique and practical ideas, rather than pandering to client’s whims. Rao pointed out, “An agency should have the ability to look at the business in a fresh and interesting manner; they should look at the work with a perspective clients don’t already have. It is not necessary that the client and agency have to agree on everything. It is essential to have a point of view, belief and conviction. It doesn’t matter to a client if the agencies POV (point of view) is different from theirs but if an agency presents X, agrees to Y and switches to Z, it is certainly not pleasing.”

KYC: Know your Client
There is no doubt that advertising is a people driven business but as Alok Lall, Executive Director, McCann Worldgroup, said in his presentation ‘DNA of a perfect pitch’, agencies need to engage clients and inspire their imaginations, right from chemistry meets to tissue sessions to the pitch.

Ahmad added here, “It’s important for an agency to know the people with whom it is going to collaborate. Understanding client’s culture, the people there and the value systems, go a long way in building a strong relationship.”

And relationships are not built in a day. Desai stated that agencies should be genuine in their efforts to connect with clients. He advised, “Build a rapport with the client before the final presentation. Have a few meetings between the official brief and the final round. Don't just show up for coffee, but go with questions that show you are genuinely interested.”

Tell a Story & Rehearse how to tell it
It is not just about presenting creative work but presenting the work creatively. Professional PowerPoint presentations may be a norm but creativity in the way thoughts are presented, leaves an impression.

Lall advised: “Don’t rush in like a bull in a china shop to nail the final pitch document. Most pitches have loads of info and no persuasive argument. Concentrate on the problem and don’t fall into the facts, data, info trap. The simpler the ideas, the simpler the presentation, the easier it is for the client to buy it. And don’t forget, a great pitch tells a great story, a story that starts from the problem and ends at a solution.”

Professional golfer Gary Player said, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get”...

A well rehearsed pitch does not leave any room for the client to think that the agency is not prepared. Desai gave the last word of caution, “Have back-ups of back-ups. Ensure that the projector is working, check sound system and DVD players, ensure all the files are there and opening well. Nothing is a bigger creative killer than equipment failure.”

e4m’s points for a perfect creative pitch:
Ask for a Perfect Brief
Passion for the Client’s Business
In-depth understanding of the Client’s Business Objectives
Sync between Creative & Strategy
Focus on the Client: knowledge & relationship
Tell a Story & Rehearse how to tell it
Backup of Backups

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