Going Beyond The First Date, What it Takes to Win a Pitch

Agency Management; A good agency will still lose pitches, by David Hunt

You’ve had all the right signals; she laughs at your jokes, shows an interest in your stories, and your friend said – her friend said – that she said – she liked you. So why, when you asked her to the cinema, was she washing her hair? The life of an agency can at times, resemble those formative teen years. A lot of time, effort & dedication but without fair reward. To be successful there are three key ingredients – timing, chemistry & brilliance (I think you can win with two).

1st date

I’m busy tonight
Having graduated in Design in 2002, I found myself in Vancouver with Tim Woodcock, now GM of HAVAS LYNX London. I had a strong portfolio, excellent qualifications & the confidence of youth. With the help of the local design directory we set about securing employment. As a 22 year old, desperate for a job & a new life, I learnt more about pitching than at any other stage in my career. I’d know who I was meeting, their background, work, interests & ambitions. I’d know which of my portfolio would resonate the best, ideas they would get, reference they would love. The feedback was tremendous & disappointing in equal measure, “Love it!! But the timing…”, “Wow! But at the moment, we just can’t…”. In 2001, the burst of the dot.com bubble had ensured that the US investment had been withdrawn from Vancouver and local agencies were having to re-align their strategy & adopt a more cautious approach to recruitment. Despite, my best efforts there were simply not the opportunities. As I would learn throughout my career, even the most confident candidate, with their favourite ideas & best customer insight can be unsuccessful if the timing isn’t right.

It’s not you, it’s me
Without doubt our best campaigns are powered by chemistry when the client & agency teams work as one, from the medic through to engineer. Total alignment, a shared goal & a rewarding experience. Equally, at the heart of our more painful campaigns is a toxic relationship. A lack of empathy, trust and fragmented communication, will inevitably lead to a flawed deliverable. A defective relationship does not signal a bad agency, it simply confirms that as people – there are those we like & those we don’t. I applaud clients that make decisions based on their instinct, based on the people they meet and a conviction that they can collaborate. A campaign involves a long-term partnership, inevitably with highs & lows, so working with someone that you respect, whose opinion you value and company you enjoy, is a key ingredient for success. Even with perfect timing & great ideas – chemistry can be all important.

I’m just not sure
There are those agencies who believe life is a game of numbers, the more you ask, the more you get. They pitch more, but offer less. They don’t expose themselves, confident in the knowledge that they’ll win a couple. I COMPLETELY disagree. I have been brought-up to always give 110%. My Father-in-law, Carlo Distefano, owns an incredibly successful restaurant group and as he explains, “I work because I love it, and then it doesn’t feel like work”. You must be passionate about an opportunity, you must care about the outcome, you need to be your best. At the heart of every success is always a brilliant idea. It can be the right time and the right team, but without the excitement of an idea there is no vision. 

I ask three things of my teams at HAVAS LYNX:

  • Commit entirely to an opportunity, and deliver a brilliant idea
  • Understand the client, and build a partnership for success
  • Enjoy the creative process, as it just might not be your day

And like all the best relationships, the first date is just the beginning. Each & every day, we need to make our partners happy.

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