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
’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
’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
’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
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.
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
Having been shown ideas using 3-D modelling and virtual reality
techniques, clients are better able to grasp an agency’s proposition,
’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
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.’
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.