The 12 quickest ways to get thrown off a pitch list

If new business is coming just a bit too easily to your agency of late, Nathan Hodges has a dozen ways to remedy that.

Ever decided you actually don’t want to win a piece of business, but realise you’re just too chicken to say so directly? Maybe you’ve got a bite from another, bigger brand in the same category. Perhaps you don’t like the sound of the client team. Or maybe you’re busy. Or rich. Or lazy. Okay then. Let me save you the embarrassment.

Here are twelve sure-fire ways to get thrown off a pitch shortlist. Believe me – they work like a dream.

One. Hire a consultant with some ‘specialised industry knowledge’ to do your talking for you, then agree with whatever he or she says. (Make sure you only hire freelance though. You definitely won’t want him or her hanging around afterwards. Not with all those ‘insights’. These people are really, really annoying.)

Two. Agree an agenda. Then make sure your senior player ignores it completely, very obviously, and at great length. Just for good measure, you could point this out now and then, with a mix of watery humour and barely-hidden desperation. (I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen this succeed.)

Three. Bring along at least three people to say nothing in the presentation. But do make sure they nod a lot, and smile a lot, and make really energetic notes whenever a client makes a comment.

Four. Make sure your team can laugh loudly and knowingly when you mention some self-indulgent aspect of your ‘agency culture’. Wacky photos of your ‘epic’ agency parties are great for this. You’ll be out of there in no time.

Five. Talk about how ‘unique’ your agency is. Then mention your ‘results focus’, or your ‘collaborative/creative approach’, or your ‘digital yet full service ethic’ – any of these should do nicely.

Six. Work on that jokey, superficial ‘rapport’. (This was apparently very big in the eighties, but is now sadly underrated as a chemistry destroyer.) Vigorous handshakes, loud laughter, weak jokes, the smallest of small talk, fake interest – these are all fantastically, utterly transparent. A real pitch killer.

Seven. Wheel out the clichés, people! A few ‘death by Powerpoint’ jokes can help keep things suitably mediocre. And saying ‘without further ado’ when introducing something is always brilliant. Brilliant. Oh – and don’t forget ‘marketplace’. Oh yes. We all love that one.

Eight. Case studies. Lots of them, please! None of them relevant, of course. Preferably told in painful, forensic detail with a few poor jokes by someone personally involved. And with commercial results which are – of course – confidential. (Ah. That ‘confidential’ line. Gets ’em every time.)

Nine. Spend at least ten minutes messing around unsuccessfully with the presentation equipment. Preferably over a laptop in a huddle of two or three with puzzled expressions. If you’re really brave – and this is the showstopper – disappear under the table and try to re-connect stuff with your backside in the air. Unbeatable for destroying confidence. If you can’t show a simple presentation, they’re not going to trust you with a million bucks of production budget are they? (This is gold, you know. Gold.)

Ten. Just lose interest halfway through. Sounds simple because it is. If everything else is going far too well, and it looks like you might even go through to the next stage, this is your ace-in-the-hole. Look around, glaze over, play with your phone, or just go quiet. Works instantly if you’re the pitch leader. And if you can come across as slightly arrogant when you pull this one, then even better.

Eleven. Explain that your ‘strategist’ is going to ‘facilitate’ the session. Then watch as your strategist makes a few lame notes on a whiteboard while being ignored by everybody for the rest of the meeting. No strategy. No facilitation. Good – that’s two crossed off the list then!

Twelve. The last resort – the off-colour remark. Now this one takes guts, no question. But it also takes genuine creativity to create offence without legal action. My current favourite is this masterpiece, crafted by an agency principal in the first two minutes of a pitch: ‘Don’t worry – she’s all over it…like a fat kid sat on a Smartie on a hot summer’s day’. Wow. It still works as I type it. You can’t make this stuff up, you know.

So there. Use any of these in your next new business meeting and you’ll save everyone a lot of time this year.

Nathan Hodges is the general manager of pitch consultancy TrinityP3


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