Against the big reveal

Posted on 29/07/2021 by Gemma Walton

It's time to switch out the old ways and creating pitch presentations like a magic show.

This is one of those posts that I’m almost embarrassed to write, as the realisation of where I have previously erred so many times before dawned upon me. And now I cringe slightly at all those times I’ve made the same mistake over and over again. Because that, I thought, is how it’s done.

In my defence it’s by no means just me that’s made this mistake – it’s something that’s been taken as the standard approach at most, if not all, the agencies I’ve worked at before, and I believe across many other agencies across the marketing and advertising industry.

So what is this huge faux pas?

The Big Reveal

It’s that sense of an agency receiving a brief, and after a quick discussion with a client to present some initial challenges and clarify a few points, they disappear under the radar and burn the midnight oil to compile what they believe is the solution to the problem at hand, before presenting it back fully-formed, and complete with imaginary jazz hands.

It’s almost as if there’s some merit in second-guessing what the client is looking for, and that asking too many questions or even – shock horror – telling the client what you’re going to talk to them about in the pitch are fundamentally against the rules of engagement, and thoroughly frowned upon.

Us vs them

Thanks to the legacy of the Mad Men days, when presumably contact with your clients was genuinely far more difficult, pitches were set up as ‘us’ vs ‘them’. The idea was to defeat them with your ideas and strategy until they were left with no option but to award you the contract.

I’ve seen pitch teams leave the office like soldiers heading into battle and returning either presuming to be wounded or victorious hours later.

The pitch debrief would go into intricate detail of how the client responded to each idea or tactic. Often bigger clients would be famed for giving nothing away thanks to some training they were all supposedly made to attend that taught them how to keep a poker face, lest they show favour to one client or another.

Those torturous RFP pitches are the worst offenders: a rigid set of rules around what contact you are allowed with the client, all in the interest of fairness, but surely against the best interests of performance.

I know I’m not the first person, or even the 10,000th, to stumble upon this realisation (I’m not in sales so don’t go too hard on me if you’ve been working like this since 1997). But I do think too many agencies, and critically too many clients are still working with this mindset, when really a policy of conversation, collaboration, and discussion are the answer to everyone’s woes.

New mantra

In fact, it was our consultant Ben Potter that drove this home to me recently. “A pitch or a proposal should only confirm what you’ve already discussed.” It sounds so obvious when you say it like that.

And for the new me, this simple mantra should cover every facet of a pitch: strategy, tactics, creative, budgets – if something is going to surprise a client then it’s worth talking through in advance. Because otherwise that left-field approach, that huge cost, or the controversy around that creative are only going to distract from the rest of what you talk about. Instead, you can test the water, and get your client to buy into the direction/budget/messaging before it comes to crunch time.

Sure, you can still go into battle, but go into battle alongside your client, not against them.

If you would like to discuss this more, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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Against the big reveal

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