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June 25, 2003
10 Guaranteed Ways to Lose a Pitch
The AAAA recently held, in New York, its first New Business Summit. It was attended by over 450 senior people from across the country. Speakers included virtually all the major agency consultants as well as marquee names on both the client and agency sides.

What was the "net" of the day and a half session? The answer is that there's an amazing consistency of opinion (among the speakers and, subsequently, the attendees) that there are clearly defined "rules of the road" that successful agencies follow in the new business process. Nothing supplants perspiration, inspiration and passion but maximizing the "dos" and minimizing the "don'ts" improves your odds dramatically.

Ok-so what are the "pitch killers?" Here's the consensus:
  • "Pitch everything that walks."—It might seem counter-intuitive but in a tight economy, prospect selectivity is more critical than ever. Pitch to win rather than pitch to pitch.
  • "Too much about us (the agency)."—not enough about them (the client)."—Kill the credentials because they kill the pitch.
  • Not doing enough homework. The client expects you to know and understand their key business issues, even in the first meeting.
  • "Knowing too much, too soon."—Failure to listen to—and absorb—the client's issues and problems before offering solutions.
  • Failure to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Think of the pitched as a play—the more you rehearse, the better the production—the more spontaneous you appear.
  • Going overtime in the pitch.."—Perception is that if the agency can't manage its time in the pitch, they won't be able to manage the account.
  • Strategic/creative "disconnects". — Failure to establish the clear linkage between the strategic solution and the creative execution is a "tragic flaw" which knocks an agency out of pitch.
  • Overemphasis on "Unique", "proprietary" agency tools and systems. They are generally not "unique" and most bore the hell out of prospects.
  • Failure to build "chemistry". Prospects hire agencies and people they respect—but first they want people they enjoy working with.
  • High tech vs. "high touch".."—Death by PowerPoint!
Not surprisingly, the "pitch winners" are the flip side of the killers listed above. Overall, the biggest complaint prospects have about most agency presentations is that we don't take the time to learn."—and understand."—their business. They also say that we bore them with our credentials, we bore and confuse them with "agency speak" (use jargon) and we over-promise the value of our "unique", "proprietary" agency tools and systems.

The sooner we, as an industry, learn that "it's about them, not us", the sooner we will raise industry standards and, thereby, prospective client respect.

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As Director of DDB's Worldwide Business Development, Cleve Langton is a bona-fide New Biz Whiz. Cleve is responsible for directing DDB's U.S. multi-office pursuits and multi-regional pitches worldwide. Cleve is also the founding Chairman of the AAAA New Business Committee. Bill Bernbach's celebrated Volkswagen ad may have proclaimed "Think Small," but new business at DDB is BIG thanks to Cleve.
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