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How should PR deal with pitch ghosting?

You’ve put in a considerable level of effort. The pitch you’ve painstakingly crafted has been through eight (rather annoying) edits…but somehow you’ve got 12 different versions of it saved under the names: ‘Pitch final.doc’, ‘Pitch final 2.doc’ and ‘Pitch final final.doc’.

Hours of client research, collaboration and brain power has been reduced to this one simple task. Your stomach does nervous flips as the cursor edges closer to the send button.

Then you get ghosted. The potential client never comes back to you, and the pitch you worked so hard on goes nowhere. It’s an unfortunate rite of passage for PRs at any stage of their career, and sadly pitch ghosting isn’t a just scary story.

How should PR deal with getting pitch ghosted? We asked our readership whether you should respond to being ignored, how best to do it, and if dabbling in the occult is actually the only way to get a reply. 

Check for signs of life

Nigel Sarbutts, founder at PR freelance firm, The PR Cavalry: "The key thing agencies forget is that the person you’ve pitched to probably needs to get sign-off from people you’ve never met, in finance and senior leadership. If you don’t communicate to them, you are heading for ghost-town. Remember that they don’t have the time to read your pitch document, and those cool one word slides are meaningless to them. They don’t know who you are, so you need two or three versions of a one page pitch summary which addresses what they will want to know. 

"For example, how will this address their key business problem? How will you demonstrate value for money? How will you de-risk the process of switching from the incumbent? Each of these can kill your pitch without you ever knowing, and even if your main contact wants to appoint you their path is blocked and the ghosting begins. In summary, if you think the pitch meeting and proposal document is the end of it, it isn’t. It’s the start of a different kind of decision making process that you need to navigate."

Dead it off

Christopher Slevin, creative director at PR firm Inkling Culture: "It’s an absolute d*ck move to not respond with feedback, be it constructive criticism or simply expressing a general dislike for the pitch team – agencies need to hear what went wrong. While I understand you are very busy, taking five minutes to write an email or have a quick call with someone is a small effort compared to the weeks of work put into creating a pitch. 

"It’s an easy way to lose respect for a brand/company as a whole, not just the individual in question. I’d suggest the best approach is to let it go, but not to give up. Redirect your energy in a more positive way! You’ve undoubtedly immersed yourself in the client’s world. What’s next? Who are their competitors? How can you leverage that new knowledge to create your next opportunity?"

Ghost in the machine

Lottie West, global head of PR at PR agency, Fox Agency: "I don’t think it’s a coincidence that ghosting has increased in prevalence since virtual pitching became the norm. We now have a far smaller window and platform to build relationships with prospects, and when you are just an anonymous name in an inbox, rightly or wrongly, you are much easier to ignore. Conversely, if you have taken the time to build an in-person relationship, that creates a foundation of trust to have the more difficult conversations. 

"Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but when you have got to know an agency over several meetings, there is an obligation to have an honest and direct conversation if they have not been successful. A successful client-agency engagement is built on relationships, and if a prospect is not willing to invest in that relationship upfront, we should see this as a red flag."

Kill them with kindness

Rick Guttridge, managing director at PR agency Smoking Gun: "This topic sure get's agency folk hot under the collar, as we've all been there many times! This is despite knowing better and putting processes in place, such as asking prospects to put in writing their willingness to offer timely detailed pitch feedback either way. One of my most effective ways to elicit a response has usually been giving them options to reply to an email with simply an A, B or C. Each answer choice has a comedic take, based on their brand, if you've not won, no one's going to win or just can't decide now. Giving them a quick smile seems to work."

"Please, put us out of our misery"

Daisy Whitehouse, managing director at PR agency Down At The Social: "I am literally being ghosted as I write this quote. As agencies we do everything to avoid engaging with companies who appear to have ghosting potential, but I am always surprised that someone can seem serious and professional for several meetings; then fall off the face of the earth. We check potential leads against a set  of criteria (timeline, budget and a clear brief) before agreeing to pitch - and normally this helps to demonstrate  commitment, but it certainly isn’t failsafe. I feel the best we can do is come together to say to potential clients that if something changes or an agency gives them 'the ick' then please just tell them in a clear and open fashion. Please put us all out of our misery and let us move on to the next lead rather than refusing to reply to messages."

Playing dead? Here's the bill

Ben Lowndes, director at PR firm Distinctive Communications: "First things first: we should call ‘ghosting’ what it is rather than using terms that give it credence “It’s rank bad behaviour. It’s rude. And it should present a red flag if spotted early. I don’t want us to be part of the problem, complaining about bad conduct while failing to manage our role in it. We're asking prospects to agree to timescales for responding before we work on a proposal. We submit ideas we’re proud to stand behind, and in return [we expect feedback], even if they don’t appoint us. If they don’t respond, we invoice them for our submission."

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