Pitch Perfect Etiquette

Ali Findlay • 18th May 2015

 In fact, if you add up what all the agencies are spending to try to win, it may be more than the business is actually worth. So why do we all still do it? Why, in this new era of hi-tech delivery and ever more sophisticated ways of working does our industry persist in a new business selection process which hasn’t really changed since the dawn of advertising (hark back to Mad Men and Don Draper’s knock ‘em dead pitch moments.)

 I think it’s because agencies love to have a chance to flex their creative muscles, and because we all believe that enlightened clients will appreciate our beyond-the-call-of-duty efforts. And I also think it’s because, secretly, we love a good pitch. Most agencies enjoy pitching when there’s a level playing field with all to play for. And there’s the rub.

In the spirit of healthy and above all fair competition, here are my Top Ten Tips for perfect pitch protocol – on both sides of the table:


Provide a detailed, written brief. Provide clear information about the background of your organisation, your objectives, your market and audiences, the deliverables in the pitch, any brand guidelines or similar documents. It’s worth the effort at the outset if you want better quality responses. Provide all the relevant research and stats available, any customer insight you have, and a competitive set of other brands you admire in your sector.
Provide your budget range – clients are always nervous about doing this, but the range of budget available will frame the recommendations the agency can make – you don’t want them pitching a 3D animation if it costs more than your entire budget.
Tell your agencies how they will be evaluated, they need to understand the weighting of the different elements of your brief so that they focus most on the areas most important to you.
Have a tissue meeting – allow both yourselves and the agency to get to know each other a little for that all-important chemistry session. It’s important to get a feel for the dynamic between you.
Answer questions – an inquisitive agency is a great thing, so make time to answer their questions, it will yield results and shows the agency isn’t arrogant, respects your knowledge, and wants you to be involved. Collaboration is key.
Invite a maximum of 3 agencies and think carefully about whether the incumbent should be one of them – if you were happy would you be holding a pitch? Of course, this is not relevant if it is a procurement related pitch where the work has to be re-tendered every 3 to 4 years. Better to spend some time researching a shortlist: visit agency sites and consider each one very carefully; take recommendations. If you have three strong contenders, that should be more than enough. Make your list any longer and the decision-making will only get harder. Unless you’re impressed, don’t ask them to pitch. Doing this also respects the not inconsiderable investment each agency makes.
Time – give each agency up to 3-4 weeks to respond and prepare, and up to 2 hours on the day to pitch. They will have spent thousands of pounds worth of time and even third party costs in creating their response across strategy development and creative executions, so pay them back with a couple of hours of your time (no mobile phones – not even on vibrate, no checking email, no secret in-jokes, no distractions). Commit to some focused listening and consideration time. If the client gets involved at pitch stage it can actually be a stimulating process. Yes, sometimes even enjoyable. . .
Make sure all of the decision makers are in the room. A pitch will never be communicated as well by someone else, as by the team that created it. It will also ensure that all of your stakeholders are invested in the chosen agency and route, making your job easier as the campaign/project gets underway.
See all of the agencies over no more than a 2 day period – how can you ensure you’ll remember the first as well as the last if it’s over a protracted period? But don’t have the pitches so close that rival agencies meet in the car park – that can be just a tad awkward. . ., More importantly, you and your team need time to recharge your batteries and discuss what you’ve just heard.
After the pitch, make your decision as soon as you can, the agencies will be anxious to hear the outcome, and the sharpness with which you recall the work will fade over time – stay excited! If you decide to call the winning agency first, make sure they don’t take to the phone and social channels until you have let down the less successful, they shouldn’t hear about it in a competitor’s tweet.


Good manners are just as important for agencies. At The Lane, we respect the fact that the client has hopefully taken time to write a thorough and insightful brief. We understand that conducting a transparent pitch can be complex where multiple business areas and stakeholders are involved.

The client may be pitching work from a newly-minted budget that they’ve fought hard to win because they believe in the project/campaign. They may be new to their role and have had to persuade the senior team to consider moving from a sleepy incumbent – that should be applauded.

 Here are my Top Ten Pitch Tips for Agencies:

Involve and talk to everyone in the room, respect different levels – often the middle level person will have more sway in the decision because they’re empowered in this area, what’s more, if you win, you’ll be hoping to be working very closely with them. Take time for introductions and to understand each person’s area of responsibility so that you can make your response relevant to each stakeholder.
Think about your audience – don’t go into detail on complex digital thinking if this is not a topic that the pitch panel are familiar with. Keep it simple and engaging. You don’t want anyone glazing over.
Ensure there are no distractions from your team such as a vibrating phone, or a team member who looks bored when it’s not their turn to present.
Plan your presentation to enable you to stick to engage your audience within your allocated time. Rehearse to ensure you can deliver your pitch in the timescale and get all presenters to agree not to go off piste and use up another presenter’s time slot.
Leave your ego at your desk – this is about what’s best for the client’s business, not your next award entry. For us it’s always about effectiveness – what works best for the client’s business inevitably works best for the winning agency’s future with that client.
Keep your recommendations in line with indicative budgets – if you recommend a solution at twice the stated budget, the client will feel that you have failed to listen and consider their needs.
Don’t blether on! It’s obvious, but keep your slides short, visual and engaging – if the client wanted to just read your response, they would have asked you to send in a proposal. You can take time to explain your thinking, just don’t put an essay on a slide.
DO talk about measurement and evaluation. Even the most sceptical of clients prick up their ears when KPIs are mentioned, especially if you back them up with tangible examples from previously effective campaigns.
Encourage questions, they can be a very valuable way to show clients that you can think on your feet and that you’ve considered every possible angle.
Ask your client to give you detailed feedback regardless of the outcome. It continues the dialogue and can be incredibly helpful for next time.

And finally a top tip for me… read your own top tips before your next pitch!

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