Pitch wins are all alike—great strategy and/or creative work, along with the right chemistry with the client—but each pitch is lost for its own reason. Since winning is hard but losing is really easy, here are 10 ways you can make sure you lose a pitch.
1. Pitch just for the money
New business means money, so that is what you should focus on. No need to restrict pitching only to a brand or category that your team has respect, passion or hunger for. It’s really easy to fake enthusiasm, and the client won’t be able to spot it from what you say and do. In any case, they don’t want you to take their brand, goals and challenges personally—it should be just business.
2. Don’t figure out the real agenda and hiring criteria
The pitch brief document should be the sole focus for the team—just work to fulfill its requirements. Don’t bother to engage the client between the briefing and the presentation. There is little that you can learn from the conversation about their deep desires, the pressures they face internally, and what really motivates the pitch. Moreover, the team who briefed you should be the only people you should be concerned about. There may be others who are the real decision-makers, but understanding their needs and selection criteria is not your responsibility.
3. Try to please everybody with a Big Title
Your pitch direction should come from the most powerful person in your team, rather than from the people who have the most understanding of the brand and its consumers. You should then add more directions (and more stress-filled work) till the last minute, in order to accommodate off strategy ideas various Big Title people have had. It’s more important to keep them happy rather than stick your neck out and say no. What does it matter if the team wastes precious pitch time, gets worn out by the unnecessary work or becomes demotivated by the belief that they are chasing the wrong solution?
4. Hire freelancers to do the actual work
You don’t want to take on what your team can actually handle; you want to show how entrepreneurial you are by taking on more pitches than the people you have can deliver. So you hire freelancers to do all the work. Freelancers care about your company and its success as much as you or the other long-term employees. They will definitely go out of their comfort zone, put in the best work of their life, challenge themselves and work all night, just for the small amount of money and the zero credit you are giving them.
5. Forget that you are all one team
Why help each other do better when you can all work in your silos and demonstrate how much smarter and more creative you are than everyone else? Why spend time and effort in order to arrive at one point of view? Those other people just don’t understand your discipline and expertise. It’s better to go do what you want and send it across to fit in with the rest of the work. Somehow, the client will be able to spot that one gold nugget you crafted in the mass of confusion and disparity that’s been put together. Then you can be the hero for everyone else.
6. Showcase the complexity of your thinking
You and your team have spent days doing all sorts of research, analysis, consumer meetings, brainstorming and copying from the internet. Now the time has come to present that understanding to the client, so why should you downplay all the weeks of wading through information? Why put in 10 slides when you can make it a 100? The client is going to be so impressed hearing about every red herring you chased while you arrived at the solution for them. What does it matter if the evidence for the solution is completely drowned out?
7. Don’t bother to rehearse
No need to ensure that all the presenters rehearse their performance as a team since everyone needs to tell the pitch narrative in their own distinct way. Of course people thrive on the surprise created by last-minute changes by someone else within their part of the narrative. Also, no need for much interaction between the team members—all that spontaneous interaction will only bore the client. And no point in role-playing the possible questions the client may throw at you and what the response will be. Someone will definitely know the right things to say at that moment. Not much danger of anyone mumbling, looking lost, tactlessly shooting off or looking at each other’s faces waiting for revelation to strike.
8. Tell it, don’t show it
After weeks of working on it, the correctness of your solution is obvious to you and the rest of the team. So it should be just as blindingly obvious to the client, even in the limited time you have to present. Don’t bother to illustrate your point of view through pictures, videos, visual representations, objects and stories, in the slides or in the presentation environment. Just state your points and expect people to believe them. Better yet, fill the slides with a mass of text and wait for the client to read every word during the presentation.
9. Talk more about yourself than about the client
Your client would love to know all about the big brands your offices handle globally—and what a huge agency you are and all the famous names that are associated with it. Of course they want to sit through case studies of work in categories that are completely unrelated to their own, and where there is not even learning they can apply to their own work. They want to hear all that rather than what you have been able to understand about their business, their challenges and their fears, and how you’ve really made sure the solutions are workable and in line with their brand and organizational culture.
10. Don’t learn from your last pitch
There's no point thinking over what went wrong or went right in your last pitch. Calling up the client for feedback and why they made the decision that they did is just so much effort. Introspecting with the team and sharing feedback on the whole experience is even more unnecessary effort. Winning proves you are doing everything right and losing is the fault of the strategy/ creative/ client handling (pick one).
Remember, every pitch is yours to lose—or win.
Lubna Khan is head of planning at Grey Malaysia. The views expressed here are her own, and don’t necessarily reflect the organization’s viewpoint.