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Should not could…why being more assertive will help you win more

‘If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own’.

Henry Ford

Good old Henry has come up with some great quotes on many occasions and here is another. As with all pearls of wisdom, it has the whiff of the bleeding obvious but it is amazing how many times this gets forgotten when agencies pitch for new business.

I well remember a pitch where the client had specifically asked for a recommendation from the agencies only for one to present two ideas which, in turn, prompted the obvious question: ‘So which one do you recommend?’ The CEO said one and the Chief Strategy Officer duly said the other!

I know. I know. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s a bit like missing an open goal from 3 yards away. Surely it’s easier to score!

What it does remind us is how important it is to win the pitch by understanding what the client requires from you.

Our experience has been that, as the pitch progresses, clients want the pitching agencies to become more “dogmatic” in their approach. They are talking to you because they value your expertise, and want you to have an opinion. “We need the agency to have conviction” is a cry that we often here from clients.


Clients want to see you demonstrate your expertise in the pitch. This is when you need to be at your most assertive or autocratic. This is where you show your experience, your creative leaps of thinking, your ability to make them believe this is going to improve their marketing. They know what they could do, they need you to tell them what they should do. This is where you justify your fee.

This is not a time for ‘yes, but, no, but’ or ‘we can do either’ or ‘we’ll work together on it’. This is a time for leadership. You may never get another chance, so grab it with both hands.

Call it a meeting of minds, if you like, but when a client sits back after a pitch and says ‘they must have had access to our marketing plan; they’re thinking is so similar to ours but better’, you sort of know who the front runner is!

Outside of the pitch itself, of course they want to see your more democratic, collaborative side but, more often than not, the winner is the agency who gets more autocratic as the pitch progresses.


Taking on board Henry’s observation, at our next AAR Masterclass, we’ll be exploring what goes through a client’s mind when they’re in ‘new business mode’, along with what you should pitch for, and how often, and why a pitch is exactly the time to be assertive. Pitching to Win will be hosted by Martin Jones and Alex Young of AAR on Tuesday 9 May over at the Ivy Club.


Martin Jones and Alex Young, AAR


Anyone involved in agency new business, at any level.