PR Insight

Some PR pitch tips

Date: 22 September 2011 12:54

Clients can only expect a PR proposal to be as good as the brief they produce. This means considering timings, objectives and budget. For their part, agencies have to make sure that they appreciate exactly what the client wants, before rushing ahead and wasting energy by coming up with unsuitable ideas. 

Here is some expert advice for clients and agencies to make sure your next pitch runs without a hitch.
Tips for the client:

1. Do not invite too many to pitch (no more than four) and research the chosen agencies thoroughly to determine suitability beforehand.

2. Make sure the brief has clear objectives, includes thorough research and isn’t woolly.

3. Ask for input from commercial colleagues.
4. State a budget. If you don’t want to give an exact figure, at least offer a range.

5. Do not create a long and complex pitch process, with numerous hoop-jumping and stages involving many decision-makers.

6. Build in a minimum of two to three weeks from brief to pitch to enable thorough research.

7. Allow the agency to ask questions about the brief beforehand and then answer them quickly. It is unprofessional to share your conversations with one agency with another.

8. Ideally, give each agency the chance to meet you and ask questions face-to-face.

9. Give feedback after the pitch to all the agencies.

10. Don’t spend an unreasonable amount of time deciding which agency to use. Or worse, decide not to appoint anyone.

11. Recognise that the pitch process costs agencies money, so act professionally and with respect.  

Tips for the agency:

1. First of all, don’t chase after anything and everything, over-stretching the accounts teams. Only pitch for work that you have a good chance of winning.

2. Do not have a dedicated pitch team. In the pitch, clients want to meet the people who’ll represent the agency.

3. Read the brief and make sure you go through it crossing off all the requirements at the end.

4. Talk to the client and ideally meet with them. Occasionally, prospective clients are unclear about budget or what they want from any agency. Help them to pin down expectations. 

5. Understand the history of the company, know the space it is working in, the media it should be speaking to and be up-to-date on what the competition is doing.

6. Don’t assume you know who the client’s customers are and what they want – it’s always worth doing checks with the supposed target audience to get their views on the brand in question.

7. Carefully consider cost and deliverability. A creative idea is useless if it isn’t practical.

8. Too many slides and too many bullet points will kill any pitch.

9. Ignore you own agency agenda, and focus on what the client needs. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach. 

10. Have a run through – it doesn’t matter how good your research is or your ideas are, if you haven’t rehearsed properly and fail to get key messages across.

11. Don’t allow juniors to have an untutored role in the pitch, this can result in some real gaffes.

12. Don’t spend the first hour talking about yourself, how wonderful you are and how many awards you’ve won.  If the client didn’t respect your abilities they wouldn’t have asked you to pitch.

13. If you are worried about your ideas being stolen, ask the client not to take notes during the presentation and retrieve the hard copy document immediately afterwards. 

Thanks to everyone who contributed these tips: Lorna Gozzard, director at agency Kindred; Nancy Prendergast managing director at agency Tannissan Mae Communications; Julia Ruane, director at agency ChiCho Marketing; Paul Stallard, director at agency Berkeley PR; Caroline Tarbett, founder of agency Fierce PR; Andy Turner, founder of PR agency Six Sigma; Jeremy Walters, independent PR consultant; Rikki Weir, board director at PR agency Cirkle.

Written by Daney Parker

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    Interesting that most of the contributors to this article - including tips for the agencies - are from agencies!

    Name: Claire Fowler

    Date: 23 Sep 2011 09:16 AM

    No. 11 'tips for the client' - never in 20 years have I ever seen this happen and never will!

    Name: Amanda Hassall, Six Degrees

    Date: 23 Sep 2011 09:28 AM

    Actually, #7 of client tips is directly contrary to lots of procurement policies. You have to give the same information to all the agencies, to be fair. So invite questions by email only, and then email out the (anonymised) question and the answer to everyone, as promptly as possible.

    Name: Zena Wigram
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 09:49 AM

    Responding to Amanda above, Point 11 has been lost in translation by the look of things. It was one of my submissions and was made as one of several under the heading 'worst things clients do.' These are the words I actually used: "Failure to recognise that the pitch process itself has a cost attached to it that they, one way or another, always pay for. (see my blog for more details)" In short, pitching comes under an agency's 'cost of sales'. And all costs plus profit margin is what determines the fees clients pay. In this respect, not offering to pay agencies’ basic time costs, was listed as another 'worst thing'. I accept that it's extremely uncommon, but I have heard of some progressive clients doing this.

    Name: Andy M Turner
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 09:52 AM

    Zena, it might be, but that, to me, highlights the lack of understanding of procurement people. When you choose an agency, you're buying people. Part of the decision is based on their insight, wisdom and creativity. If one of the pitching agencies asks a really insightful question about something you haven't considered before, it's hardly fair to share the Q&A with all the others who never thought to ask such a question.

    Name: Andy M Turner
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 09:58 AM

    Andy and Amanda, in response to your comments above, I agree and have amended point 11 in the client list. Thanks guys

    Name: Ben Smith
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 10:37 AM

    I see your point, Andy, but I'm still going to have to work within my organisation's procurement policies - whatever the agencies pitching might prefer. The tender invitation has to explain the way the procedures will work - if the agency with the insightful questions knows they will be shared, they might rephrase them or save them for the pitch.

    Name: Zena Wigram

    Date: 23 Sep 2011 10:39 AM

    Another tip for the client to add to point 11: If the agency has taken the time to write you a proposal, but you decide you don't want to go ahead with PR after all, don't be a spineless tw*t and avoid their follow up calls. It is perfectly acceptable to not want to commit to a proposal, but going off the radar when you have used up someone's time is just downright rude.

    Name: Heather Baker
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 10:44 AM

    Zena, I appreciate we've both been talking so far about fairness, but actually this is about finding the best people to work with. I think that's easily overlooked when procurement people get involved. The way forward is improved understanding for all parties so that bid processes account for this; it can't just be 'how much of X will we receive for Y price'. In advertising, procurement people shadow agencies so they get a full insight into what they are buying. This helps both parties. On your last point, saving a question for the pitch allows no time to plan and fully present an idea based on the answer; I'm not convinced it's practical and the risk is that something fundamental gets overlooked.

    Name: Andy M Turner
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 10:53 AM

    These tips are actually very useful, especially the client tips. We've dealt with several clients who don't have a dedicated marketing manager and rely on us, the PR agency, to interview them to understand their needs and help create a brief. And these clients aren't what any of us would describe as small either. I should imagine those companies lacking a dedicated marketing manager would find these tips very useful. Sadly, we've also dealt with companies who have exceptional marketing teams but used the pitch stage as a 'tyre kicking' exercise, in that they liked the ideas but decided to keep the PR in-house despite seeing several agencies. Thankfully this doesn't happen often but the above tips could help guide the way for the perfect pitch process.

    Name: Jaime Gee
    Date: 23 Sep 2011 10:54 AM

    Heather in response to the above I cannot agree more, and this is happening a lot I am afraid. When I worked in-house I had the b***s to keep the pitch process short and to call each agency to explain the reason they did not get picked. Another tip is GIVE FEEDBACK whether any agency wins or not, both are important.

    Name: Amanda Hassall

    Date: 23 Sep 2011 11:31 AM

    I agree, there are some excellent tips in the above article, but some companies simply don’t have the time to invest in all of the above. That’s where external help can provide the extra level of support needed to transform and maximise the potential of a new business pitch. Working for The Future Factory, I know that ‘new business agencies’ are sometimes – unfairly – thought of in a negative light. I would argue that by bringing in external experts who are 100% focussed on growing an organisation and building its reputation, business managers can focus their attentions on raising the profile, and profits, of their company. Working with a new business agency shouldn’t be a painful process, it should be a fulfilling one.

    Name: Alex Sibille
    Date: 28 Sep 2011 12:54 PM

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