Most organisations will pitch for business at some point in their existence but creative is one of the few sectors that expects companies to pitch for work on a regular basis. And when creatives are invited to pitch, they’re expected to do the work upfront, a high-risk strategy, that can cost a company a lot of time and money, with no guarantees of any ROI. In a competitive environment, creative companies will seemingly do anything to win business, throwing as much resource as they possibly can at it, so the stakes get even higher. But is this the right strategy? Is it right to pitch for every opportunity thrown at you, and when is it ok to say no, thanks?
Our rules of engagement
FIG has a set of rules of engagement for pitching and tenders and to be fair we put our business forward for more pitches than we do tenders. But we don’t go for everything we’re invited to; we’ve learnt our lessons over 24 years in business. Here’s our checklist, which might help you make the right decision for your business.
People buy from people so it is crucial you have a relationship to be able to win a pitch. So arguably the incumbent is always in the stronger position. But incumbents don’t always win. If a client was totally happy with the work of the incumbent, I would question why they are going out to pitch in the first place. If you’ve been invited to pitch for a company you don’t know, you need to build a relationship quickly before the pitch. Pick up the phone, ask for a meeting, have a list of questions/reasons to talk and find out what makes this client tick. Find out what their pain points are and whether you are the best fit. With no relationship, your chances of winning lessen. Remember the old adage that business deals are made between the 5th and 12th contact, so there’s work to be done here.
In our experience, 3-5 agencies are the optimum number to invite to a pitch. More than five and we question the viability of the pitch. FIG has been to pitch for a University that was so oversubscribed with applications, they ended up inviting 15 companies to pitch. We should have declined but hindsight is a wonderful thing. From that 15, 7 went on the University’s rosta but we found out much later that one or two of the key agencies got the biggest share of the work and many of the other agencies saw very little work coming through, so even though they had won, they didn’t see an ROI for the effort of pitching.
Now, this is a new blog all in itself! What is a good brief, after all? What do I mean by a good brief? Is it clear or are there lots of room for interpretation? If something isn’t clear, pick up the phone and ask questions – that helps to build a relationship anyway. If you can’t talk to someone, for example, in some pitch/tender situations, all questions are pooled via email so there’s little opportunity to build a relationship. We have, and do decline to pitch if we feel the brief is not clear and we can’t get our questions answered. In the past, we have pitched where the brief was confusing but we still went for it because we were able to ask questions and we felt that we had the right story and right credentials to be able to win it. In both pitches, we didn’t win and even more frustrating, we found later that the organisations didn’t progress with any company after the pitch process! Such a waste of everyone’s time. Sometimes I think a client doesn’t actually know or understand what they want, and it is probably why they have resorted to a pitch in the first place. Hoping to see something that answers their unresolved problem. I think clients should be more honest if this is the case as agencies might focus more on showing them how they have helped others in a similar situation and their credentials than trying to show them a big new idea.
This applies to any work, not just pitches, but not all business is good business. We’ve all had that client or that project that was never profitable, for various reasons, but none of us want a repeat situation. Do your due diligence about the client and about the project that you are pitching. Is it the right sector where you specialise? Does that sector pay well, what are the terms of their contract? What’s the early experience of working with the client during the pitch process? Smooth and helpful or do they continue to be vague and not available? This early experience should tell you a great deal about how this client and this project will work in reality. How are you going to deliver the project? Can you do it all in-house and make good margins or are you going to have to outsource, that will really cut into your profitability? Basically is it worth your while?
We would all like to think we can win something and you’ve got to be in it to win it in the first place, but a pitch will cost you in the region of £15-20,000 so you need to be confident in your offering to invest this type of time and money. Have you got the team and credentials to demonstrate to the client you can deliver what they are asking? Are you confident in the creative work that you are putting forward? Does it answer the brief, in your opinion? Have you created a winning ‘story’ to show the client your thought process and why yours is the right solution? Have you got the right people to pitch your ideas?
Pitches are not going to go away from the creative industry any time soon – they are very much a part of what we do, like them or not. At FIG, we love the collaborative process of a pitch. It involves nearly everyone in the agency at some point, working together, brainstorming, testing our creativity, thinking outside the box, considering a new client and their challenges and the audiences they are trying to engage. FIG has been particularly successful in branding pitches, that’s obviously our thing, with our strong, experienced team of designers and marketers. But we don’t win them all and when you lose, it’s devastating for everyone, probably because you’ve put your whole heart and soul into something and given your best. But then when you win, it’s the best feeling. And when we’ve won pitches, the ROI is massive because we retain clients well and in many cases, winning a brand project has led onto a long-lasting relationship with that organisation. So at FIG we still think it’s worthwhile pitching for business, but do create your own checklist and pick and choose the right pitches you decide to go for.
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