There’s More to Pitching Than Doing Killer Work

By Egotist / /

This editorial courtesy of The Denver Egotist

Well, it’s 2011. And the new year will see many agencies across Colorado, the US, and the world battling for new accounts. But will the new year bring with it a completely fresh outlook on pitching for new business?

Many up-and-coming agencies, and even more established ones, will face the following dilemma:

Do you do work to win the account? Or do you do the best work you can?

The uninitiated will no doubt think that the two are synonymous, but seasoned agency people will know that’s not the case. While some pitches require a genius strategy and bold creative ideas, others demand the opposite. The client may even be putting the account up for review because the incumbent agency is constantly delivering work that is too edgy, too risky or too challenging.

Should you, or your agency, compromise your creativity and produce work that you know is mediocre in order to win the account?

It’s an easy enough question if money does not come into play. Shit no!

If you’re looking to build an agency, a good one, then you want to do it with accounts that trust your vision and give you the creative freedom you need in order to do genuinely good advertising. Doing mediocre work will not help that cause one bit.

But unfortunately, the agency is staffed by people who want salaries. They need to eat and own cars and sleep in beds. Selfish bastards, the lot of them. And that means your agency may not be able to turn away every RFP because the creative opportunity isn’t there. Scruples are one thing, but going out of business to honor them is not going to help anyone. We all have to start somewhere after all.

So, what do you do?

Well actually, it’s more a case of what not to do.

The biggest mistake I see agencies making is that they will do whatever it takes to win the business with the intention of doing better work later.

“Yes, this is mediocre work, but we’ll get our foot in the door. Then, we hit them with the great work later on and win some awards.”

Sorry, that almost never happens. I’m sure you know many agencies that have fallen foul of this strategy, and have a client roster that makes most creatives want to hang themselves or run screaming in the opposite direction.

You win the pitch with safe, crappy work, the client wants safe, crappy work. If you go from Jekyll to Hyde six months into the relationship, they’ll be pissed. And rightly so. They selected you based on the work you showed them.

Imagine dating someone who has the personality of a tame Sunday school teacher, and suddenly she starts slamming tequila shots, staying out until 4am and has the sexual appetite of Charlie Sheen. Hey, a lot of people like that, but you started dating the shy wallflower because that’s what you wanted. And if you were dating a hellcat that gave up booze and became a born again virgin, you’d be pissed, too.

It’s a huge, huge error to expect the client to start accepting dangerous, edgy work when you purposely withheld it from the pitch. You did your homework, knew what the client wanted and gave them just that. A sudden turnaround on their part is not going to happen, at least not for many years or they have a sudden regime change.

Just know that the client you’re going after is a cash cow, and that’s all. Getting the creative department’s hopes up that this sad cow will become something more fun to work on is just disingenuous.

On the other hand, you could do your research and throw it to one side. You give the client a pitch that delivers, in no uncertain terms, some very wild, crazy and creative work that you know will bring in the customers. It’s a gamble.

In that case, you now know that if you win or lose, you gave it your best shot. If you lose, you may live to fight another day. If you win, you win with great work. Remember, of course, that the client still may water down that pitch work, but you’re on much more solid ground.

The other scenario is to turn your back on it. The RFP could require too much of your time and won’t be something you really want to win anyway. I’ve been in agencies where the owner halfheartedly announced that we won the credit card mailing pack pitch. Hurray. So exciting. It’s money, that’s all, and we never expected it to be anything more. And did we really need the extra money?

If it’s sink or swim time, you bite the bullet and find work. Any work. You get clients that deliver the cash to pay the bills, and do great work for pro-bono clients that will get your agency noticed. Then, start replacing those bad clients with good ones, as and when you can afford to.

But please, don’t ever try and pitch with poor work and expect a client to come around later. You’re not just kidding yourself but the rest of the agency.


  1. Perry Schaffer February 8, 2011

    Speaking of “pitching,”
    Speaking of “pitching,”

  2. Perry Schaffer February 8, 2011

    Speaking of pitching,
    Speaking of pitching,