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How to increase the odds of winning your next PR pitch

3rd September 2015


“A PR pitch is a bit like dating – slightly awkward and time-consuming, but also very rewarding when it works out”, says Charlie Stroe, account manager at  Stone Junction. Stroe says that to make sure you get all the success and none of the hassle, there are two things you need to master – in dating and pitching: preparation and personality.

“The key to making pitches as effective as possible is preparation. During the first conversations, get as much information as you can from your prospect about the company, corporate culture, audiences, budget and what they’re hoping to achieve through PR. Once you’re clear, go away and seriously research the industry, market and competition. Ideally, you want to understand the company and the environment it operates in before the pitch.

“The next step is to prepare a proposal that reflects the character of your company and the people in it. Without authenticity, your pitch will be just another PR stab in the dark. Most PR people want to win every pitch they attend, but new business shouldn’t come at the price of your personality. People buy people, so if you really want to convince potential clients that you’re the best person to handle their PR, you should be genuine. Preparation and personality are essential for ensuring a second date. I mean, a PR win.”

As well as “people buying people” they also buy great ideas. To come up with a creative strategy that works, Sam Lythgoe, head of business development at PR firm H+K Strategies, says that you need to focus on the client brand’s “purpose“: “We have a purpose-driven communications model that works at the intersection of insight, innovation and creativity to produce the best ideas we can – crucial to a successful pitching process. We ask, what does the brand fundamentally stand for, what challenges do they face and what value can we add to their business?”

Andy Barr, head of PR agency 10 Yetis, says that when it comes to actually doing the pitch, the most important element is finding the right tone of voice. “You can judge within five seconds of meeting or talking with a prospective client the tone you should be using. However, the person you are meeting may not be reflective of the wider pitch panel that you are going in to talk with, so you need to get the balance right and read the room. I have very much misjudged the tone of many a pitch and gone in all jolly and lol-tastic, only to fall flat on my face and be pitching to a very serious in-house team.

“I find that what really works best for us, as an agency, is to not go big on the hard sell. Be honest; try as best as you can to carry out the God-awful industry cringe term of ‘managing expectation’ around the type of coverage and reach that your proposed campaign may get. Do this without under-playing it too much and therefore losing out to a rival pitch that promised the earth (but when you monitor Google alerts for the rival agency’s work, delivers naff-all – come on we all do it!). In a nutshell, be honest about what you can do and achieve is the mantra I try and live by during the pitch. It seems easy when I say it like that ...”

My top three tips for winning pitches

 Ilona Hitel, managing director of PR agency The Comms Co: 

  1. Assess the opportunity to decide whether it’s right for your agency. Ask if you have the right experience, people and capacity? If the answer is yes, go for it and give it your all, but if it’s a no, don’t devalue yourself by going after every lead that comes your way. It’s ok to be choosy. Also, work out where the lead has come from, do you have connections? Is it warm in some way? Or are you just filling the pitch list?
  2. Research, research, research. Do your homework at every level. Know their business as well as they do. At least. From an agency point of view, do you have clients that cross over? Have you tested the product or service? Have you conducted a web audit as if you were a prospect?
  3. Develop a relationship ahead of the pitch that will set you apart from the competition. Chemistry is so important, but being able to demonstrate your skills and sector know-how by sending over relevant media opportunities in advance of the pitch will also set you in good stead. It never hurts to show that your agency and its people are willing and able. An obvious point, but check out your connections at the company on LinkedIn.

Sally Maier-Yip, managing director of PR agency 11K consulting:

  1. Know your prospect. It's all about problem-solving, try to understand what problems your prospect is facing and how you can solve the problems. Having said that, chemistry is as key as expertise. Does your agency/team fit with your prospect’s culture?
  2. Know your agency. Why you? Focus on developing your agency's USPs. It's easy to try to focus on what other people are good at, but the key is to focus on developing what your agency is good at and makes it really famous in the industry.
  3. Know your products. Consider your PR services to be like products, that come with different qualities and pricing. Name your products in your prospects' languages so that they get them straight away.

Nev Ridley, managing director of agency Manifest Communications:

  1. Get the right pitch team. In addition to content it’s imperative to have the right team pitching. Nine times out of ten clients will want to know who their day-to-day account team is, so be sure they take a role in the pitch – regardless of what level they may be.
  2. Brainstorm. Use your whole team to think of pitch ideas.
  3. Substance over style. My final point concerns the purse strings. A knee-jerk reaction may be to throw money at a pitch, however money can never make up for a lack of creativity. If an idea is sound it can, to an extent, sell itself – conversely a beautifully presented, but naff idea won’t get anywhere – and rightly so.

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