A cure for pitch paralysis

Well, this is awkward (thinks the client)

The agency bods are waiting for our reaction to what they’ve just presented. An intelligent, well-reasoned reaction would be ideal, but right now any reaction would do.

What if I throw my hat in and say I like route two, which I do, but my boss doesn’t? She’d never go for that one because it might actually get us noticed but my review’s next week and I really want that new flat and I’m right on the edge with the mortgage and the cheaper option just isn’t a goer with my cat.

Sod it. She knows I fibbed about that flight ‘delay’ from Oporto back in August anyway.

I’ll hedge it. I’ll say “I like *that* bit from route two and *that* bit from route three.” Okay. Deep breath. Here goes…

And so follows what agencies hear after 90% of creative pitches – and it doesn’t help anyone on either side of the table because, ultimately, it leads to less effective creative work.

The problem, of course, is that it’s a weird, fake situation that elicits weird, fake responses. People are expected to absorb, reflect on and rationalise typically three different creative approaches and make potentially career-changing decisions right there on the spot.

No wonder they feel like rabbits caught in headlights. I’m sure I’d be exactly the same – it takes me long enough to decide what type of coffee I’d like after dinner at a restaurant. You can almost imagine that this was how the macchiato was invented:

Waiter: “Was everything okay with your meal, sir?”
Customer: “Oh, marvellous. Thank you.”
Waiter: “Can I interest you in any of our desserts? A coffee perhaps?”
Customer: “You know, I’d really love a cappuccino, but I want the fast jolt of an espresso, and really I’m too full for a cappuccino, I suppose what I really want is both, so can I have an espresso with half a cappuccino on top, please?”
Waiter: …


[Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash]

The pitch process is as old as this industry and has been roundly, and justifiably criticised throughout the years.

At Earnest, we actually enjoy pitching because we get to do some of our best work, and then – as is very often the case with new clients – we get to see their anxiety dissolve into actual, genuine enjoyment. Until we ask them what they think.

I’d wager that for every one client that lacks a strong inclination towards any particular route over another, there are three who would speak out with the courage of their convictions if only they weren’t so wrapped up in what their colleagues might think of them (you see the opposite on the odd occasion when a marketing person is also the CEO: typically they have no one else to worry about and their opinions are their own. Nine times out of ten, they choose a clear winner).

The whole pitch dynamic conspires against confident, decisive reactions. Rabbits are in headlights. Rabbits’ bosses are watching. Rabbits’ bosses’ bosses are waiting back at the warren to be persuaded with cogent arguments and guarantees of impressive results. And a bunch of agency people stand staring at the front of the room with their brightest, most expectant expressions. Poor bloody rabbits.

I don’t blame this situation on the people involved, I blame the pitch process itself. Goodness knows I’d dither at the restaurant for all eternity if I had to choose a coffee that would please all of the people all of the time or, worse still, my boss’s boss.

And I’d love to say I know what the answer is, but I don’t.

I certainly think there are different approaches that could and should be tried. Maybe it’s the format that needs rejigging. Perhaps strategy and creative should be presented on separate days and in different ways. Or perhaps a couple of “independent” people could be brought into the pitch – someone from a completely different area of the client’s organisation, and even invite one of their existing customers – so they can say whatever they like and be rewarded with fancy biscuits.

By finding a better way to tackle the pitching process it could become far more enjoyable for everyone, and clear the way for truly great creative work.

If, as you’ve been reading this, you’ve realised that you have a few insights, ideas or experiences of your own on this subject please do share them with us (I’m sure you’ll think of a way, resourceful person like you).

In the meantime, I’m popping out for a coffee. A flat cappumochaccino today I think.


[Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash]