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Highs and lows of pitch life, according to Nelson Bostock’s Sarah Shilling

13th October 2015


Pitching can be amazing. It’s the thrill of the chase, it’s exhilarating, it’s stressful, it’s heart-breaking. Sarah Shilling, who heads up Nelson Bostock’s new biz team, on what a life of pitches is really like…

A friend said to me, “Wow, pitching must be so exciting. Working as a team, having the opportunity to show a brand exactly what you think they should do, and then they hire you to do it!”

I paused. Yeah, it does sound exciting, doesn’t it? In theory. But the reality isn’t always like that…

Let me try to put it another way. I want you to build me a house. I want you to throw everything into creating that house; your best people, most creative ideas, time, effort, the works. I will then come to the house, view it, and spend the next week trying to beat you down on price. Before finally buying a house down the road. Why? Because it was actually nearer the pub and it’s all about location. Was that not clear in the brief? 

That’s what pitching is like.

There are highs and lows through the whole process. When you’re picked to pitch, you’re walking on air - they’ve chosen us! Networking at those expensive Awards nights are working.

 But then you start to unravel the detail…

We have to complete a 58 page document (Word only, please) to communicate our most creative solution to an intensely complex problem, and then upload that through a portal in a cloud, somewhere to someone… We post our response to the portal and we wait. We keep waiting. We are probably still waiting as you read this.

 Or there are those ones which involve knowing all details about your company - what the canteen serves on a Wednesday, inside leg measurements of the team, who’s the best in the agency at hopscotch. And all of that information needs to be provided on 6 hard copies, 5 soft copies, 4 brochures, 3 USBs, 2 disks and 1 email.

 Then there’s the ‘no pitch, pitch’ scenario. You go through the whole agonising, highly emotive and stressful (and costly) process to pitch, then don’t get the account because;

 If you’re looking to take on an agency, here are some things to keep in mind:

 Questions need answers

No chemistry, no point

Tissues wipe out mediocre

Make ‘post pitch black holes’ illegal

 Start-ups, sit down

 Of course, if you stay in PR long enough, much of the above are in the minority. Here’s what you should keep in mind as an agency pitching:

 Trust your gut

Set out your stall

Level the playing field

Have confidence to walk 

Take the stage and sell it like an ad agency

Sarah Shilling heads up Nelson Bostock’s new biz team



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