RESEARCH: Learning as much detail as possible about the potential client
will create a feeling of respect CHEMISTRY: Developing a rapport with
clients is more important than using visual aids
TECHNIQUES: Spark and Torch, role rehearsal and analysis and acting
techniques can all improve pitches
A successful pitch can hinge on chemistry between the two parties
as much as substance, but training specialists can ensure that PR
practitioners at least present themselves in the best light. Wendy Smith
Feelgood factors may be back on the agenda but with an air of parsimony
hanging over from the recession, it is still tough for PR consultancies
to pull in new business. Client companies are leaner, meaner and far
more discerning. The retainers of the 1980s have been replaced by ad hoc
projects and PR practitioners find themselves facing an increasing
number of their peers in competitive pitches.
As result, more pressure is put on the pitch presentation. Time out of
the office is expensive. Pitching for new business is time spent without
earning fees. So what can be done to ensure a decent success rate from
the client presentation to justify those costs and grow the business?
It is commonly accepted that even in the hi-tech 1990s no matter how
flash the audio visuals, and how well cut the suit at that final
presentation, if the chemistry is missing from the first hand shake, so
is the business.
The sensible may turn to the training professional to hone their
presentation skills and pre-empt the chemistry crisis. But can anything
really be done about such intangibles as dislike-at-first-sight?
Presentation training professionals claim that even such an ephemeral
factor as client /agency chemistry can indeed be worked to your
advantage. And many claim that they have never been busier passing on
Roland Rudd managing director of Roland Rudd Consultants boasts a range
of top ten agencies as clients including Hill and Knowlton, Lowe Bell
Good Relations as well as Lynne Franks PR. Rudd feels that PR agencies
have been forced to into a major shift in attitude during the 1990s.
‘They [PR consultancies] were difficult to train in the 1980s,’ recalls
Rudd. ‘They were so sure of themselves and felt their clients needed
them so much, and they treated clients rather badly. However when the
business collapsed, then they started to care.’
On the whole Rudd is fairly generous with his praise of PR
practitioners’ communication skills - although not all trainers agree
with him. Rudd sees his role as brushing up, rather than initiating,
core skills. ‘I’m not concerned with the visual aids and what they do
with them - anyone can learn that. The most important thing is to
develop a rapport and chemistry with clients.’
The main thrust of Rudd’s training programme is that whatever you do in
a presentation, you must do it naturally: ‘The PR person is usually
presenting to several clients - each with different kinds of personality
- and you have to come across naturally and give each person something
However well planned, the unnatural presentation performance is likely
to come across as robotic and the presenter will be unlikely to create a
connection with the listener.
Of course, not everybody can rival Clinton in coolness, or has the
natural gravitas of Kohl. But these minor defects can apparently be
worked on. Rudd insists that all of his work is about reassuring people.
If they feel comfortable with themselves, they will make the audience
feel comfortable. What you have to remember to do is to play to people’s
strengths and the weaknesses will disappear,’ he says. ‘There should be
an element of pleasing yourself within a presentation situation. If you
hate standing up for a presentation - them sit down. If you want to wear
your favourite red dress, then do. You don’t have to be a total
traditionalist. It is the uniqueness of the individual that people
really want to see.’
If there is an art to presentations, then science also matters. Former
naval officer David Lancaster, director of The Presentation Techniques
Company, takes a scientific approach. He has adapted detailed research
carried out during his Navy days to civvie street. Lancaster claims that
his company has the ability to draw on knowledge about message design,
theatrical techniques and the psychological aspects of training.
Where most presenters go wrong, says Lancaster, is in only putting over
what they want to say: ‘They are far too egocentric. The basic tenet is
not to worry about you, but to worry about the audience. When they are
happy you can enjoy the presentation.’
Part of worrying about your audience is learning all about them
beforehand, says John Blaskey, managing director of Pinewood Associates.
Blask-ey feels that very few companies do enough background research on
the client and on what is really required before the presentation. He
says that you stand a far greater chance of the client instantly liking
you if he or she feels that you really know and understand them.
‘You need to know everything from the MD’s hobbies, what charities they
support and what the dress code is, to how the company runs,’ says
Blaskey. ‘Then you can go in and match their look, tone, pace and
accent. You need to know what turns them on.’
Location for the pitch is also a key issue. ‘Always try to get the
client to your offices. Failing that, get them on neutral ground,’
advises Blaskey. ‘If you do the presentation on the client’s premises,
the decks are already stacked against you.’
As for that critical component of personal chemistry, the key to
getting it right is saying and seeing the situation from the client’s
point of view rather than your own, says Khalid Aziz, chairman of The
Aziz Corporation. ‘It may be okay to be natural but that same
naturalness has to be appropriate to the occasion,’ says Aziz. ‘We all
wear different masks but the mask that is worn in the wine bar may not
be suitable for the presentation.’
Aziz advises PR practitioners not to tell the client how wonderful you
are, but to concentrate on what benefits you can bring to them: ‘The
starting point of any preparation for a pitch is to think through what
the client wants to hear from us, and how what we say can add value.’
Gone are the days of the flashing smile and pre-prepared script, says
Miles Johnson of The Presentation Company. ‘Conveying integrity is the
single most important thing when pitching to clients,’ Johnson
maintains. His unofficial motto is ‘Mouth shut - ears open’. He believes
that if you are a good listener then you may be able to come up with
something on the spot to win them over.
Being businesslike when pitching to clients who are old enough to be
your father also demands a special approach, argues Cristina Stuart, a
former BBC World Service broadcaster who is managing director of
SpeakEasy. Stuart, who has worked with a number of PR consultancies,
including Biss Lancaster and ICAS, says: ‘Some of the men will see young
PR execs as whipper snappers so it is important that they appear more
So how do you develop a gravitas which normally comes with age and
experience? ‘We look at the way they talk, they laugh, the clothes they
are wearing,’ says Stuart. ‘Very often when they see themselves on
video, they see and hear for themselves that the voice is wrong and the
clothes too trendy. All this can be changed relatively quickly.’
But, as Stuart stresses, there is more to a presentation than getting
your speech right. You need to know how to pace the actual presentation
and how to put across those ideas; you also need to know when you are
going too fast and when to shut up. ‘You have to be able to sychronise
your presentation so there needs to be a roleplay beforehand,’ she says.
‘You have to build time in for everybody for rehearse.’ But the PR
industry is particularly bad at dry runs, she has observed, often
leaving it to prepare for the presentation in the back of the taxi.
Clearly the ultra-competitive nature of the PR business is not going to
change. Presentations will continue to be a strain, with a lot riding on
their success. But the training professionals insist that there is
plenty that can be done to make sure that the balance is tipped in your
favour when pitching for business - at least until the next round.
Spark and Torch: The chemistry of business relationships
To some, Spark and Torch might sound like an unimaginative brand of
fireworks. But to the cognoscenti who have experienced Haynes
Consulting’s Relationship Marketing training programme, these two words
are the key to business salvation.
The way forward is through a stratified, long-term new business
development process. Every public relations person wants a chance to
get on the all-important pitch list, but how do you reach the parts that
other PR people don’t reach?
Richard Haynes, MD of the Warwick-based consultancy, reckons that most
companies don’t have any sort of system for new business development at
all: ‘The no-system approach is the most common. Public relations
practitioners are no worse than anyone else. They just chase anything
that moves in the hope to catch it as a new client.’
A slight improvement on this non-approach, he reckons, must be the
committee approach. ‘But this is highly time-consuming when you just get
six or seven people sitting around explaining why they haven’t done
something,’ says Haynes.
He views the telesales approach as equally flawed - all promise and no
delivery: ‘You might get the appointment fixer to get someone to agree
to see the consultancy, but there is invariably a high level of
cancellations and a low level of conversions.’
Enter the Spark and Torch system, originated in the United States by
Stuart Saunders. Haynes saw Saunders speak at a PR Week conference and
had a Pauline conversion to the technique. Saunders was looking for a
British partner and Haynes wanted to be that partner.
The Spark and Torch system is not, he will tell you, for the consultancy
unwilling to invest in its future - and looking for instant results.
The process is about opening and maintaining a long-term dialogue with
each prospect, so that when they are thinking of changing their
consultancy you are at the forefront of their mind.
The Spark is the non-fee-earning employee, solely responsible for
building and controlling a database of potential clients up until that
first meeting has been secured. This is when the prospect is handed over
to the Torch, who will be at the coalface of the action within the
consultancy and who will supply the prospect with the solution to their
As we all know, clients tend to go with the people they like and trust.
So, with this in mind, the Relationship Marketing programme has a
‘personality profiling’ module built in. This teaches delegates to
understand the chemistry of business relationships.
Spark and Torch course training can cost from as little as pounds 300
per person on an open day to several thousand pounds for the in-house
course. Is this investment of time and money justifiable? Adam Roscoe,
managing director of Greenwood Tighe PR, recently sent his senior staff
on the training course. ‘Of course it’s a big outlay but we justify it
in the view that new business is key to growth,’ he says.
‘If you are a consultancy committed to growing, then you should put your
money where your mouth is.’
Kingstree: Steering Edelman to success
When the opportunity arose to take part in a competitive pitch to
Volkswagen earlier this year, Edelman PR was not going to take any
chances. The consultancy had no intention of resting on its laurels and
hoping for the best on the day, and invited presentation company
Kingstree in to assess its proposals and presentation technique.
‘When we called Kingstree two or three days before the pitch, we were in
a shambles.’ recalls Edelman’s managing director Abel Hadden. ‘We hadn’t
finished writing the presentation and we weren’t even sure about the
route we were taking.’
Kingstree made the Edelman team role-play their presentation, listened
to what they thought they were saying and told them what they were
actually saying. Kingstree analysed the techniques of their delivery -
and generally put the Edelman team through their paces.
‘Kingstree might not know about PR but they do understand the audience’s
perspective,’ says Hadden. He admits this pre-pitch hand-holding is not
the kind of luxury you might employ at every pitch - but the Volkswagen
case was rather extraordinary. ‘We might be good at getting new business
but we still can have our off days,’ he explains.
The move obviously paid off. ‘The client got back to us that day to tell
us we had won the business,’ says Hadden. ‘Kingstree told us to take a
more personalised approach to the presentation and they were right.
Doing the rehearsal early really focused our minds, otherwise we would
still have been writing it on the way to the pitch.’
Edelman PR beat a number of other agencies to a six-month regional PR
programme to support VW’s affordability’ message. Kingstree’s chairman
Lee Bowman observes: ‘They needed us to straighten them out. Their
strengths weren’t coming through. Although they had great ideas, they
were cluttering them up. We gave them confidence.’
Edelman isn’t the only organisation to employ Kingstree’s pre-pitch
advisory service. Bowman claims that 80 per cent of his firm’s business
is advising on real pitches; the rest is training. ‘Our success rate
with some of our clients is as high as 70 per cent. But we don’t like to
come in right at the last minute. We like to be there as soon as that
initial request to tender has been made, to maximise the chances.’
The Henshall Centre: Treating all the world as a stage
Well-established in the field of presentation training. The Henshall
Centre has recently broadened its approach by embracing skills borrowed
from the theatre. The centre has taken on a Shakespearean actor to teach
on its advanced presentation course. ‘This is not about teaching people
to play Hamlet at their presentations,’ explains Keith Henshall, ‘but
simply to play themselves.’
The working actor with the responsibility to put some presence and
performance into the business presentation is Paul Hargreaves.
Hargreaves says that he had often thought that his basic skills as an
actor would be useful in the business arena, but he also believed that
it would be far too arrogant an act to go into training without
investing in some recognised training himself.
‘I was comfortable about presenting the ideas to an audience but not
altogether sure about measuring the value of what I was doing,’ recalls
Hargreaves. His investment in his own training taught him how to deliver
and evaluate - and confirmed his original belief that he had something
Despite the fact that he is referred to as The Henshall Centre’s
Shakespearean trainer, Hargreaves’ training has little to do with
imitating the great Bard. It has more to do teaching the presenter word
power. ‘I don’t want to change people’s voices or muck about with their
vowel sounds,’ says Hargreaves. ‘That would be a horrendous thing to do.
I want to free them up to explore language so their presentation won’t
Hargreaves observes that when the presenter is forcing an idea, this in
turn forces the voice and the body; tension creeps in and interferes
with the sound of delivery. This is where the actor’s skills come into
play. Hargreaves teaches delivery technique. Actors, he says, are
practitioners of language. Actors give what he calls ‘verbal energy’ to
words and bring out the imagery inherent in words. He believes that
presenters can learn the techniques to improve their delivery and draw
the listener into their message.
As well as delivery, Hargreaves also addresses the choice of words.
‘Words are powerful and are capable of changing a situation. If your
sentences are too long, you can get lost in them. I help the presenter
simplify the language,’ he says. ‘Any exchange needs to appear to be
effortless. It is my role to pass on the techniques that perfect