BUSINESS PRESENTATIONS: Stealing the show - Agency pitches need not only the technological wizardry to impress clients but the sense of how and how much to use it. Robert Gray reports

When marketing agencies pitch to clients for new business they need to consider both psychology and technology as they develop their presentations.

When marketing agencies pitch to clients for new business they need

to consider both psychology and technology as they develop their


Making the right choices in this regard is vital because, unlike in

other beauty parades, there are no prizes for coming second.

In an ideal world, the agency best-equipped to handle the account would

be a dead cert for the client’s business. But in the real world an

agency’s capacity to do the job, its creativity and its implementation

skills can be masked by a poor pitch.

In fact, as every marketer knows, a pitch need not be poor to fail;

merely poorly judged. This is where the psychology comes in, because a

presentation that may seem well-paced to one client might seem too

ponderous to another and too rushed to a third. An ad-lib that amuses

one marketing director may offend another. A gimmick that sticks

positively in the memory of one potential client may damn an agency as

superficial in the mind of someone whose frame of reference is


All clients have their own likes, prejudices and whims. That is why when

agencies weigh up what technology, if any, to use in a pitch, they need

to bear in mind the impression it is likely to make.

’When it comes to presentations we like to go low-tech,’ says Jon

Voelkel, planning director of direct marketing agency Craik Jones Watson

Mitchell Voelkel.

’We like to do things on boards so it feels more like a discussion. That

way they feel they’re already working with us. And we want to let our

creative work speak for itself rather than putting it on some sort of

electronic pedestal.’

’In many ways the ideal presentation is one where you are sitting down

and dishing out advice in a microcosm of how the real relationship would

be,’ says Harvard PR director Gareth Zundel.

Zundel has been wary of over-slick presentation since being told by a

prospective client that his team failed to get the business even though

their presentation was considered the most sophisticated.

Although impressed by the smooth skill of the pitch, the client felt it

was so well rehearsed and put together that the ’real’ Harvard could not

be seen.

’If you’re pitching to ten people some sort of high-tech visual aid is

very useful,’ says Chris Lewis, managing director of PR agency


’But if it’s a smaller group a more informal approach may work.’

Lewis takes the view that humour, like technology, can be a powerful

part of a pitch. He once used visuals of a frozen chicken and a bottle

of chilli sauce to illustrate to a potential client that his image was

currently dead cold but could easily be spiced into life by hiring the

right agency.

That pitch proved successful but another pitch, involving a member of

the team dressed as a cod, ended in failure.

Saatchi & Saatchi used visual humour more subtly when pitching

successfully for the Toyota account several years ago. A Toyota car was

displayed in reception for the initial presentation. A member of the

client team remarked on the fact and pointed out there was room for

another. When Toyota returned for a subsequent presentation, a second

vehicle was parked alongside the first.

Remote control

When it comes down to the pitch proper, Saatchis is careful not to be a

slave to technology. ’The temptation in every new era, in presentation

technology terms, is to let the technology take over,’ says Saatchi &

Saatchi vice-chairman and director of marketing Hamish Pringle. ’The

control and the presenter have to dominate.’

Saatchis had dabbled in a sophisticated system enabling the pitchers to

switch seamlessly from PowerPoint presentation to video. However,

Pringle believes that by projecting from the back of the room there is a

’dislocation’ from the client.

As effective pitches involve connecting with the audience, a rethink

brought about a switch to a new-generation plasma screen. The advantages

are that the room lights do not have to be dimmed and the speaker can

stand next to the screen, concentrating a client’s attention on a small


Nick Lamb, managing director of marketing event production at new-media

agency Crown Business Communications, is a fan. His agency uses a

62-inch plasma screen for presentations, which he describes as an

’awesome device’.

Having been shown ideas using 3-D modelling and virtual reality

techniques, clients are better able to grasp an agency’s proposition,

Lamb argues.

’Technology is an arrow in the quiver as far as new business is

concerned,’ he concludes.

But returning to the psychological dimension, there have been times when

putting technology in the back seat has been effective. Crown once took

part in a five-way pitch for an Internet account and the pitch team

surmised correctly that the four agencies going in before it would all

be presenting using laptops.

To help it stand out, Crown took some of its creative work off the

Internet and mounted it on boards. The technique worked a treat: the

client admitted to being ’teched-out’ by the other presentations and

hired Crown.

There is no absolute right or wrong way to pitch. Sometimes technology

is a massive asset, sometimes not.

’If you look at basic psychology, people remember colour more than black

and white and moving pictures more than still ones,’ says Jon Rortveit,

vice-president of digital display equipment manufacturer Davis A/S. ’If

you’re the guy who comes in after someone has given a dazzling

multi-media presentation, of course it matters.’

Instant response

For the truly pioneering pitching agency, it is now possible to use

interactive technology to get client responses during a presentation.

Group response systems company IML, which manufactures cordless keypads

of the sort used to vote on questions at AGMs and other meetings, is now

marketing its product as a device that can be used for pitches.

The advantage of this is that an agency can engage prospective clients

in a technological dialogue, shaping a presentation to follow the paths

in which a client has expressed interest. But the possible disadvantages

are quite frightening; the structure of a pitch might disintegrate if

there are too many digressions, and in seeking too much input from a

client in a presentation situation an agency could appear not to know

its own mind.

Clearly, if such a method is to be used it must be done with a great

deal of forethought and control.

Shell international marketing director Raoul Pinnell thinks that clients

are not, on the whole, blinded by the use of technology. ’I don’t

honestly think that how an agency has pitched has fundamentally

influenced our opinion,’ says Pinnell. ’It’s what they say, the quality

of the strategic thought that’s important.’

Automobile Association group marketing director Bob Sinclair agrees,

saying technology should only be used where appropriate in pitches.

’In many ways, you can hide behind technology. Although I’m interested

in it, there comes a time when you need to switch it off because we have

to make sure the people can debate and understand issues,’ he says.

Although PowerPoint presentations are useful when there is complex data

to be shown and discussed, says Sinclair, they are impersonal and

unnecessary when this is not the case. Old-fashioned over-head

projectors and flipcharts may be a long way removed from the cutting

edge, but they can still be highly effective.


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