‘We get into the lift with my motley crew’: Russel Howcroft reveals his worst pitch

PwC chief creative officer Russel Howcroft had the audience in fits of laughter at a Mumbrella360 panel, revealing the worst pitch he’s ever been in.

“Virgin Money. I reckon 10-15 years ago. I had a really motley crew. I won’t name the names, but just think of the dirtiest, scraggiest… The work was really good. Very talented people. But they were not looking their best,” he began.

The panel (from left): Lisa Ronson, Russel Howcroft, Warren Brown, Nikki Warburton, and moderator Steve McArdle

“So we pitch, and I’m looking at the audience, and the audience … they’re eastern suburbs Sydney right. They look pretty cool. And we didn’t. I leave the room, and the next crew arrive, and I’m standing at the lift and the lift well opens … [and the next agency is] looking like they’ve just come out of fucking Chanel or something, they look unbelievable.

“I just say to myself, ‘there is no way we are gonna win this’. I completely lose my mind. We get into the lift with my motley crew, and, fucking, want to punch the shit out of them. It got pretty aggressive. Because how effed is that. We just didn’t give ourselves the best chance because of just looking unprofessional. Literally thongs.”

Coles’ Lisa Ronson (left) and PwC’s Russel Howcroft (right)

And the stories involving thongs didn’t stop there.

“When I arrived at [former advertising agency] George Patterson the second time around, all the account guys were wearing thongs,” Howcroft said.

“So, a couple of weeks later we did this conference, and it was called That Was Then, This is Now, because at that point in time, they thought their shit didn’t stink, and it’s like, well, it actually does.

“Everyone got a little showbag. And in the showbag was a pair of Havaiana thongs right, with a little tag on the thongs that says ‘Here is your gift. Thank you very much for coming to the conference today. Here’s a pair of Havaiana thongs. There’s just one thing: I never, ever want to fucking see them on.'”

Fellow panellist Warren Brown, managing partner at Gutthink & Partners, also shared a story in which a pitch flopped, but they had arranged for a quartet to play in the lobby, and had to exit, deflated, to the music.

Brown also said the pitch is “the devil”, and the key is not to get too attached.

“The best thing to do is to not try and fall in love with the client. Don’t even sort of get to like them. Give yourself a bit of distance,” he advised.

“If you fall in love with the client, it’s just going to get very, very messy. You need to have the distance to give them respect, you have to listen a lot, you have to ask lots of questions.”

The panel shared their pitching horror stories

Lisa Ronson, Coles’ CMO, added that from a client’s perspective, she wants to be challenged.

“One of the things that I always say to agency partners is, ‘I really, really want you to push us, make us uncomfortable, take us to places where we wouldn’t get to on our own,'” she said.

“That’s when you get the best work and that’s when you have the best relationship.”

Ronson also wants to focus on “being human” in a pitch and “not making it transactional”.

“We pay agencies to pitch. It’s a nominal amount, and it doesn’t go anywhere near covering all of the costs, but we want to do the right thing and we want to get the right thing out of the process,” she said.

“I’ve always believed that clients get the work that they deserve.”


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