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Some top tips on winning PR new business pitches

15th March 2012

What is the magic ingredient that makes some people win more pitches than others? It might be tempting to put it down to luck, but the truth is that “lucky” people just work harder in their PR jobs. Graham Goodkind, founder of consultancy Frank PR, quotes one of the world’s greatest golfers, South Africa’s Gary Player, when he said “the more I practice, the luckier I get” Goodkind expounds: “The more you put into the new business process, the more you work at getting to know the prospective client and its business and the more hours you physically put in when it comes to the proposal and the presentation, I think that all has a tendency to pay off and add to an agency's luck to improve."

Pete Jacob, EMEA new business director at PR firm Weber Shandwick agrees with Goodkind: “It’s tempting to put a pitch failure down to bad karma, the aligning of the moons in Mars or not wearing your lucky pitch pants. Flip it the other way though and it’s clear winning pitches isn’t solely attributed to good luck. Winning pitches have similar DNA. An engaged and passionate team, insight-driven research, several prospect discussions, a clear progress from insights to strategy to ideas, road testing with the client and target audience and at least two rehearsals."

It is important to be hungry for the work. Helen Beckett, director at agency Illuminate Communications, adds: “If I was a client choosing a PR agency the main criteria I would look for would be its appetite for the business. Do the agency and the people on the pitch team really want to work on this brand? Does it interest them and can they be passionate about it?”

“I think people who consistently win pitches are often ones that show passion and connect with their audience. Clients are looking for consultants who are not just intelligent and skilled, but who want to be there.”

But passion, says Bryan Taylor, client development director at communications agency Waggener Edstrom, is not enough on its own. He describes how his agency has analysed what ingredients are needed to win pitches: “Over the past two years, we’ve improved our win rate from 48 per cent to 55 per cent. We independently analyse each win and loss to map quarterly and annual trends. A lot of our success comes down to our hunger to understand what brands expect throughout the pitch process and more importantly as a client.” However, Taylor does point out that winning is not a science: “We try to remain humble when we’re on a roll, because luck, timing and chemistry are always at play – and are quite uncontrollable.”

Six tips for winning new business:

1. A pitch is about theatre, not information. Appealing to instinctive emotional factors such as confidence, trust, hope and desire is important. Logical arguments and a considered rationale play an important role because they add reassurance to a client’s emotional instincts, but they are not an end in themselves.

2. Give yourself as much time as possible to prepare and for thinking and focusing. Don’t spend too much time on the mechanics of the pitch like the look and layout of the slides or rehearsing the presentation. The fewer the slides the better, as they distract from the thinking.

3. Begin at the beginning. Start with the client’s problems, issues or goals and how you are going to solve or achieve them. Both the thinking behind the pitch and the pitch itself should start with these key issues and build from there, telling a compelling story, which ends with you solving these problems.

4. Who wins a pitch is not always a rational decision; emotions and personal prejudices can get in the way, so do lots of research on who’s going to be in the room, their real influence and the dynamics between each other

5. The recession means some clients are much more risk-averse. This means they are less willing to stick their necks out to give the challenger agency a chance; so they stick with the name they know.

6. The magic ingredient? Insight blended with good ideas that really move the needle, presented by likeable people at an affordable price.

Thanks to Jon Barron, managing director of agency Fresh Brands,  for the first three tips and Andy Turner, founder of PR agency Six Sigma, for the rest.

Written by Daney Parker

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