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When pitches fail: The top five reasons clients reject agencies

You are back at base, days or sometimes weeks after pitch day, and the call or email comes in…

“We loved you and team and your ideas were brilliant, but I’m really sorry to let you know that you came a very close second and we will not be going forward with you”.

“You were pipped at the post”.

“The panel were split and we had some robust conversations before settling on a different agency”

and if you are lucky: “Please do stay in touch and thanks again for your time and effort”.

Sound familiar?

Losing a pitch sucks. Not least because it takes valuable (unbillable) time, energy and resource to give a PR pitch your best shot. More than that though, is the sense of rejection and in many cases never really getting to the bottom of why it didn’t go your way. Why didn’t you have the pitch magic?

At Q&R we have conducted scores of post pitch loss interviews on behalf of PR and comms agencies. Based on what we have heard I want to share the top five real reasons you may have lost a recent pitch and things to think about to counter each:

1. Wrong chemistry in the room.

It seems this is the toughest one for a prospect to feedback to the losing agency. 

People buy people. Winning pitch teams work hard to build relationships upfront and plan who they will mark in the pitch so that each team member has a role and a person to focus on.

2. Inability to articulate the problem the prospect is grappling with.

A prospect is much less interested in your creds and who you are – they want to know you understand them and their needs.

A PRO’s core skill is to be able to understand and tell stories on behalf of clients. A good pitch starts with demonstrating you absolutely get their issues and the problem you are being asked to solve. Cut to the chase and show them you and whole pitch team are crystal clear about what you are trying to solve.

3. Size matters, or at least the appearance of size.

If the pitch hinges on one senior big gun flexing their PR muscles you will give the prospect cause for concern.

Best to demonstrate staff resilience/breadth across your team so that expertise is not seen to rest on one person’s shoulders

4. Lack of transparency over budgets and blended day rates.

The eternal question for PR agencies – how to sell creative ideas and solutions as opposed to time? Prospects need hand holding through what they are going to get and what value it will deliver. This needs to be firmly tied back into meeting the prospects business objectives and demonstrating the ROI you will be delivering.

If you can’t articulate this and talk in terms that gets their Financial Director or Head of Procurement purring you are going to be “pipped at the post”.

5. It felt like a lecture – we wanted dialogue.

A prospect wants to feel involved in the pitch and not talked at.

In part this relates to chemistry in point 1 above. A successful pitch team reads the room, notices body language, listens to comments and is confident enough to switch tack if needs be, and be responsive to what is happening in the room in that moment. That’s when pitch magic can happen.

Summing up, we’ve found that there is often more to be unearthed following a “you came a very close second”. Those agency leaders that invest in asking the right post pitch questions, listen to the feedback and act on it in future pitches will reap the reward.

Written by Annabel Dunstan, CEO of Question & Retain, @qandr

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