Illustration of a frog wooing a mouse as a metaphor for wooing business clients in creative pitches for a successful client pitch

What Makes A Great Client Pitch? Julia Gorrod, ISBA, Reveals All….

AKA How to woo and win clients for a successful client pitch

Wooing clients - Caroline Gibson's blog

Over the years, there have been some brilliant adland stories as to how agencies have had successful client pitches. There’s the cringe-making: such as the one for Bordeaux Wines I worked on where the account director insisted on covering the two shrubs outside the front door in red and white ribbons to mimic the client logo. Then there’s the brave: such as when British Rail turned up at AMV to find the reception full of dirty ashtrays and a bored receptionist ignoring them. Peter Marsh appeared eventually and told them this was how the public perceived them…. ‘So now let’s show you how we can put that right’.

Do clients still fall for such pitch razzamatazz? How much are they impressed by polished creative presentations? And do they really care about whether they meet the big cheese or the day-to-day account team?

I interviewed Julia Gorrod, from ISBA‘s Agency Relations and Consultancy Department to get some insight into what’s needed for a successful client pitch. ISBA is a not-for-profit agency representing the interests of its 450 members – all leading brands in the UK – looking to advertise. ISBA provides a pitch consultancy service for its members, with Julia giving advice from selecting the long list to putting together the brief to appointing the right agency.

CG: Has pre-pitch briefing changed over the years since the fabled likes of the British Rail pitch?

JG: These days it’s all about a collective immersion brief, in which all the pitching agencies come together. Briefing everyone together at the same time and in the same place, means messages are consistent and it’s time-saving for the client.

In the old days, by the time the client got to, say, the final agency, they’d have a much better idea of the answers needed and would have refined the brief along the way. Which means the last agency would have a more detailed advantage.

Immersion briefs are much more open and fairer, and the day is more about partnership and collaboration.

CG: But is it awkward with all the agencies being in the same room? 

JG: And if you think how small the world of advertising is, there’s always someone from one agency who knows someone from another agency!

There are always ice-breakers involved, anyway. One pitch I organised for a utility client involved people working in teams to build an electrical circuit which included using a rather revolting black glue that they all seemed to get covered in but everyone laughed about it. Another pitch involved agency teams walking around potato fields. Getting involved like this is also a good way of finding out about the potential agencies – how far will they go to get under the skin of a brand? For instance, spending time at a client’s call centre is always best practice.

CG: What’s the most important thing to get right when pitching?

JG: It’s vital to get the brief signed off at the highest level and ensure you pull in the whole brief team from Day One – including someone from procurement so that they understand what you’re trying to achieve from the start. In fact, at ISBA we always try to ensure that a procurement person attends every briefing session.

A successful client pitch itself has to be seamless, and should have been rehearsed 100 times over. You should anticipate all the questions a client may ask – and have good questions ready for them.

CG: What about client budgets?

JG: What’s really important is added value. Say a client has a budget of £9 million. They want to see how you’ll use this in a different, effective way that will bring value to the brand. So it’s not about cost cutting and making money go further but about clever thinking and using talent wisely.

CG: Who should be in the pitch team?

JG: Agencies know they need their top talent in the room and that they have to be able to work on several clients at the same time. Clients want to meet the thinkers – the people who’ll oversee their account, which doesn’t necessarily mean day-to-day agency workers. We often suggest that a client poses a specific business question to an agency such as ‘What would you do if you were CEO of our business?’

CG: Scamps or all singing, all dancing work? Which is better if having to present creative?


JG: It doesn’t matter how work is presented physically – whether highly worked up on a board or a slick film (which can backfire if the client thinks you’re spending money unnecessarily); it’s more about the idea.

Handwritten sheets of polyboard can be just as effective – so long as they don’t look as if they were done the night before (which is often the way before a pitch. Years ago, one agency presented work on polyboard after a last minute slog – only to have the remains of a through-the-night pizza stuck to the back).

And it’s no good if an agency covers walls with visuals of a client’s different shops or venues if they haven’t even bothered to visit them.

CG: How can an agency stand out for a successful client pitch?

JG: The thinking process must stack up and be do-able. There isn’t always a point of difference for a brand so an agency needs to come up with something emotional. Look at Heineken – just another lager but the emotional difference tied in with thirst.

The agency must understand the customer journey from beginning to end. It must also understand data so that it can connect with the customer in the right place at the right time. Information has to be relevant and hit out at the right time of day.

CG: Is there a secret to a successful client pitch?

JG: At the end of the day, it’s not just creative work and strategy that win a pitch – if you also have chemistry and trust, you having a winning combination.

Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter and client woo-er.

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