Pitch invasion: how agencies disrupt their own pitches

Disruptive ideas can be the path to growth for both an agency and their client. But when an agency’s pitch style is as disruptive as their idea, it can cause a client to reject the right idea for the wrong reasons. Marketing trainer John Scarrott explains.

Let’s start with how a pitch gets disrupted. Imagine your pitch as travelling down an invisible phone line from your mind to your audience’s mind. What you’d like, ideally is for the line to be really clear, no crackles or disturbances. This means that the client can question the idea, disagree with any aspect of it and you can respond because you’re both clear on what that idea is and where the difference of opinion lies.

When you pitch an idea ‘disruptively’, you behave in a way that inadvertently create a noisy line. Your behaviour disrupts your message. An added complication is that it’s possible for neither party to be aware that this is happening. This explains why bad news is often a surprise. Why some clients just never get back to you after a pitch. And a large part of why potentially great ideas are rejected.

The good news is that because you create your own crackle, you can also remove it, restoring the clarity of connection with your client.

Here are some of the most common ways agencies pitching for business create a noisy line and how to correct them.

You get lost in your work.

You talk to the work, rather than your client. You may even momentarily forget they’re there. You may talk to yourself, make an aside. Your client is excluded from your message at these moments.

The fix: Separate the work and your pitch. And spend time on how you convert one into the other, whilst thinking about what your audience needs. You’ve already bought the idea. You don’t want to go home with it.

You interact with your own presentation: you point at your slides.

You turn away from your client to look at the slides. This again excludes your audience and breaks the connection. No matter how attractive the back of your head is, it won’t win a pitch for you.

The fix: Don’t look at your slides. Know the order in which they come. Know what’s on them. If you have to point something out on a slide, your slide is too complicated. Which leads to my next point…

You apologise.

It could be anything. Could be tech related, wrong cables etc. It could be because you find yourself rushing through the slides, or because the slide is very detailed… .the list goes on. Your client hasn’t noticed what you’re apologising for, so you’ve brought it to their attention.

The fix: Think about all the ways you find to apologise and do something that enables you to not need to. Eventually, you’ll run out of list and you’ll stop apologising.

You umm, uhhh or use a word on a regular basis

You won’t notice these. Your client may not consciously notice them either. But your ‘filler words’ will unconsciously chip away at the clarity of your message.

The fix: Ask your colleagues to look out for your filler words and tell you what they are. Replace them with a pause. This will make your presentation more spacious and give your client room to think. Talking of which……

You rush

You start slow and then get faster after the midway point. You see the finish in sight and dash for the line. But, your client has been following, has got into your pace. When you change gear, you can lose them.

The fix: Create a momentary pause midway through your pitch where you can take a breather. “I’m just going to pause here. What thoughts do you have so far?” is a good way to announce this. Then you can cap the discussion and move off. You’ll be starting again which will turn your sprint finish into a graceful glide.

Rather like an ad, your pitch is how you package yourself in the time you have been given, to convey the clearest impression of you at your best. And this takes work. When you’ve finished the idea, you’ve only done half the job at best. The next piece of work is to decide how to pitch it.

John Scarrott works with marketing, design and creative businesses on their approach to pitches, meetings and presentations. You’ll find a recommended reading list for how to make great pitch presentations here.


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