There are many reasons why I took the role of CEO at AAR but the attraction of seeing inside the pitch was certainly a big draw.

I’ve always loved new business. The focus is on a challenge that doesn’t have client boundaries in the same way a day-to-day brief does. This is where we stretch ourselves strategically, creatively and commercially. It’s where an agency pushes its boundaries and evolves. There is nothing like that feeling when you win, and nothing like that feeling when you don’t.

If you work in an agency I can’t believe you haven’t had a moment where you’ve thought “I’d love to sit on the other side of the table in a pitch”. Or is that just me?

After my first eight weeks here, I sat down and thought about my initial observations and it dawned on me that with, my agency hat on, I’d have liked to hear about the things that jump out when you are, indeed, sitting on the other side of the pitch table.

So, I’m sharing my initial 10 observations on the creative pitches I’ve observed so far. Most of them apply to any type of pitch.

  1. Competitive context is everything in new business. The talent across this industry is immense. I’ve been blown away by the meetings I’ve had. What makes an agency unique are its people and its culture, as these cannot be cloned. Capabilities are important, for sure, but your competitors are equally capable in most cases. Don’t waste too much time on table stakes. Really think about who you might be up against and how and what they will present, so you are setting your stall up in a competitive context.
  2. Go early with an opinion. Given how competitive the new business landscape is, what will set you apart very early on is a strong point of view. I can see how attractive this is to a client.
  3. Benefit, Benefit, Benefit. It is so tempting to tell a client everything you are proud of. But less is more, so keep asking yourself ‘why am I including this part?’, ‘what benefit is this to the client sitting opposite me?’. Be brutal. Strip it out.
  4. Capturing the essence of your agency is hard, but dynamite when you get it right. Authenticity is everything. Distil who you are as an agency and culture, not what you think you should be.
  5. Honesty and directness helps. Constructive criticism is your best friend. Hard to give, hard to hear but the most valuable thing we can offer as an intermediary.
  6. The welcome is everything. Whether you are a small independent or a large network agency you can still make the client feel like the most important person walking into the building that day. Be waiting in reception, don’t let them feel like they are just another client signing in.
  7. Make yourself memorable. Another way to remind clients how special they are is the effort taken with the catering. I know it sounds trite but the biscuits, cakes or sugar fixes when it’s late in the afternoon do get noticed.
  8. Don’t go into transmit mode, especially in a chemistry meeting. Always aim for a dialogue. It can be hard to create but it is a delicate balancing act between telling, listening and chatting.
  9. Choose the right front door. Across the industry there is so much convergence, and agencies are also able to stretch into so many areas. In addition holding groups offer all specialisms under one roof. This is exciting and good for organic growth. But from a new business perspective, it can be a negative. If a client isn’t specifically asking for all these skills from you, then focus on their ask and lead them through this specialist front door. As tempting as it is to show them everything you can offer, it is distracting and can put them off. Once they are a client you can take them on a journey and introduce new specialisms.
  10. Martin Jones is an agency cheerleader. Those involved in creative pitches know he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the creative agency landscape and his perspective is hugely valued. I used to think he was a bit scary and grumpy, sitting quietly judging in chemistry meetings. I now know he sees his role like a football referee. He likes to remain out of the spotlight but quietly making the game work smoothly. He’s a real agency ally and, silently, he’s taking in every word and willing on the agency in the room. Don’t be put off by the poker face!