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How to use good etiquette to win a marketing pitch

How to use good etiquette to win a marketing pitch

By Stephen Judge, strategic development director at Bonfire Creative Intelligence.

The word ‘pitch’ has two common perceptions; it can be a negative term associated with a buyer seeking to ‘try before they buy’ or the positive throng of a business opportunity.

For the majority of agencies however, it will be the groan of ‘here we go again’ and the subsequent jumping through hoops to prove that the decade of success stories and words ‘design’ consultancy above the front door weren’t a joke to be proven otherwise.

In particular, the practice of free pitching is ever under the scrutiny of professional bodies, trade associations and practitioners the world over.

Is it a double miss-matched cultural insecurity between creatives and those buying creativity – one set without the money, all to win and who understand the creative process and the other holding the purse strings, who in many cases don’t.

The one common denominator that both parties should have in common, and therefore concur with, is professional etiquette. So for the benefit of a good, strong, long-term relationship forming, here are a few thoughts on the etiquette of pitching.

Inexperienced buyers want an easy life; they don’t want to waste hours of their time evaluating the suitability of suppliers – but they would waste days, maybe weeks, of a supplier’s time by asking them to answer an ill-conceived brief, for free, on the slim chance they may be chosen – often to find the project is later cancelled.

On the other hand the thoughtful and more experienced buyer knows the level of service they want, knows their market and business needs, selects a small number of potential suppliers based on their track record at solving creative problems and approaches them with good intent.

At this point the buyer has a good professional brief and asks the suppliers for costs. They may ask for creative input at this stage but only because, having already spent a reasonable amount of their own time evaluating the suppliers, they need a little more to help them choose.

They would have also put aside a small amount of the total project budget to cover this time in coming up with initial thoughts to aid their decision.

This is the ideal scenario where professionals of all levels appreciate and respect not only their own time, but the time of others.

As Maxine J Horn, CEO of British Design Innovation, comments: “When productivity of SME creative firms is negatively affected by any procurement practice operated by public and/or private sector, there is a moral duty to re-examine the process and to improve the conditions for all concerned.”

So let’s say the pitch had a real project at the end of it, it wasn’t a buyer wasting a potential supplier’s time to pull an existing supplier in line and the project wasn’t cancelled after the pitch, then what? We rejoice in our win or, with the helpful and constructive feedback from the potential customer, adjust our approach and move onto the next one.

I am a great believer of the theory ‘what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger’, ‘that variety is the spice of life’ and that ‘survival of the fittest’ is not only the story of evolution but the story of business – all being fair and equal.

So we promote the win naming the competition, if known, giving credit where it’s due as an Olympian would. This is what the creative media love and it’s all about profile and the company you keep – for both the successful and unsuccesful parties.

There is a huge debate about the process of pitching and more importantly how to appoint a supplier within the creative industry. Bodies such as the Chartered Society of Designers and British Design Innovation have a wealth of information available for clients looking to procure creative services.

Frank Peters FCSD MIoD, CEO of the Chartered Society of Designers & The Design Association, comments: “Members of CSD and The Design Association, its corporate accreditation programme, are obliged to adhere to a code of conduct which sets out standards for professional behaviour. As a code it states what the public may expect of a professional and, of equal importance, what professionals may expect of each other.”

I strongly believe that the outcomes of a pitch and long-term success of the relationship are very much down to the approach and experience of both the client and supplier in maintaining a professional and competitive edge throughout the pitch process.

Question: Do you ask a number of glazing companies to replace a window free of charge and then only pay the chosen company to finish the job? – of course you don’t! Nevertheless, it’s infinitely cheaper to replace a window than it is to answer a marketing brief to a professional standard.

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