The Gift-giving Guide to Pitch-winning
Seeing as I’ve just completed our agency code of conduct course, I must stress that this isn’t about bribing clients with mulled wine and luxury items from Harvey Nichols. Honest. But it struck me that there’s an interesting parallel between being great (or terrible) at gift-giving and at pitching. So here are my five top tips guaranteed to help you win more pitches through 2017 (or at the very least get you extra brownie points from your family during the festive season – no, don’t thank me):
1. Know your audience: When my sister and I were teenagers we went through several Christmases in fear of what our grandfather’s third wife was going to buy us; the cashmere roll-neck jumpers we received aged 15 and 13 bemused us, whilst the mickey mouse sweatshirts a year later brought on a fit of giggles. And whilst you’re fairly unlikely to be pitching to teenagers, it’s still true that the better you know the people you’re pitching to, the greater the chance of success. Stalking them (not literally) on LinkedIn, talking to them, chemistry sessions, understanding what will make them look good and what matters to them will all mean that when you rock up to pitch you’ve already got a good sense of what’s likely to put a smile on their face.
2. Recycling old ideas/gifts can backfire: Admit it, it can be tempting to recycle an old idea. In fact let’s be honest – after all it’s the season of goodwill – it’s very hard to be completely original. Our job is to take inspiration from everything that has gone before and find exciting new ways to apply it. But wholescale recycling – sustainable though it may be – is not so good for creative ideas, or gifts. Particularly if you get caught out, as happened to my husband who re-gifted a shirt from his grandfather, to his father. On opening it, his father recognised it, because he’d originally gifted it to his own father. Thankfully my father-in-law saw the funny side of this, but clients may not be so amused.
3. Do your research: Because the thought really does count. What does that person really want, what interests them, what intrigues them? Ask around, dig a bit, then dig harder. Observe: pay attention to what they talk about, what their eyes linger on, what hints they might be dropping. Yes, of course asking that person directly what they want is a shortcut. But in truth how much of an excited face can you muster if you’ve already told someone the product code for the item you want. And if Steve Jobs and Henry Ford are to believed, asking people what they want doesn’t get you anywhere interesting, anyway. Because the best gifts (and creative ideas) aren’t always the ones you were expecting, but are the ones that surprise and delight as soon as you unwrap them.
4. Be original: There’s a surge in demand for unique, hand-crafted gifts at the moment: Etsy is booming, my Facebook feed is awash with ‘crafty’ video tutorials of ‘Scandi’ items to make, and personalised presents are booming. It seems that people want something that says ‘I spent a little more time thinking about this gift than just clicking on the ad Amazon served me’. Clients also increasingly want something that shows originality; even sometimes ideas and approaches they didn’t ask for and creative solutions they hadn’t considered. Because although ideas might be recycled (see point 2), showing that you’ve thought differently and long and hard about what you’re proposing is good. Some of the best pitches are won even though the client didn’t buy the ‘idea’, but because they loved the approach, the thinking and the ambition.
5. Presentation does matter: This is as true for fine dining (the first bite is with the eye), as it is for great orating, as it is for gifting. But the presentation needs to be proportionate to the gift. However thoughtful and generous a gift may be, if it’s presented in a supermarket plastic bag (resisting the urge to name and shame, but you know who you are) it does convey the impression of a lack of care and consideration. Similarly if the gift is truly rubbish no amount of fancy metallic paper, twirly ribbon, and fretwork decoration will disguise this once the wrapping is discarded.
So what does this mean for pitching? We live in a highly visual world – processing images 60,000 times faster than the written word – yet too often we see the communication equivalent of a supermarket carrier bag. Powerpoint, for example, is often used as a substitute for actually engaging with the people that are buying the creative solutions . Eye contact, body language and passion are the best presentation tools. Though of course having some awesome looking props to help you do this (whether it’s on screen, or in the hand) can add the final fancy touches. Just as long as they’re not simply camouflage for a mediocre idea.
So to wrap up (sorry, couldn’t resist); one final thing that pitching and gifting has taught me is that it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver, or as my kids are finally discovering – the biggest gift round the tree isn’t always the best. Happy festive gift-giving and pitch-winning to you all.
Charlotte Bunyan is VP, Senior Creative Strategist, Jack Morton Worldwide