How to win more new business pitches

For the decade that I’ve worked in PR, I can say with all honesty that my absolute favourite part of the job is, by far, working on new business pitches. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a wide variety of pitches, for huge global brands, exciting young start-ups and everything in between, but the challenge is always the same. You need to understand what the client wants, convince them that you’re the team to deliver results and, most of all, you absolutely have to show them that you’re going to be great people to work with.

It’s hard to say why I like working on new business pitches so much. I think it appeals to my slightly bipolar personality; there’s a lot of head-down research, creative thinking, focusing on the problem and creating a great looking presentation, which appeals to my largely introverted nature. But on the day of the pitch it’s all about putting on a brilliant performance, having the confidence to walk into a board-room, look them straight in the eye and tell them why they need to hire you.

You might not win them all, but as long as you walk out of the room knowing did the best job you could, a knock-back won’t feel too bad.

It’s an art and a science, no two pitches are the same and if you do a half-arsed job of your preparation then you’ll lose most of the time. I put together a simple template to follow when I’m working on a new business pitch, to make sure I do a thorough job – I use the acronym BRISTOL:

  • Brief – read through the client’s brief as a team, make sure you understand it, ask the client to clarify anything that doesn’t make sense. When you’ve created your pitch, work through the brief again to make sure you’ve addressed everything they asked for.
  • Research – research the client’s business and market, what are they doing, what are their competitors doing, what are the big trends and future challenges. Read the relevant press, find out whatever you can, share it all with the team.
  • Insight – what have you learned from all that research? Try to avoid obvious stuff that they’ll already know – look for patterns, connections and ideas that they might not have thought about.
  • Strategy – how does the insight guide an overarching strategy that you will use to address the client’s challenges?
  • Tactics – what are the brilliant tactical ideas that you will use to deliver on the strategy. Creativity is obviously important, but don’t ignore tried and tested tactics that you can execute brilliantly.
  • OMG – what’s the Oh My God moment in your pitch that will make the client say “Wow! Why didn’t we think of this?” If your pitch doesn’t have at least one moment of blinding inspiration, think harder and try again.
  • Logistics – boring but essential, demonstrate you’ve clearly thought through the nuts and bolts of how you’ll deliver everything and work with the client on a day to day basis.

Once you’ve created your pitch, it pays to rehearse a few times and test it out on some colleagues who are not involved in the process to get feedback. Don’t over-rehearse, you don’t want to sound like you’re reading a script, but make sure everybody knows which parts of the pitch they’ll be delivering and that they are comfortable talking about the topic. Be prepared to step in for colleagues if they get stage fright and forget what they’re supposed to be saying, but try not to talk over other people’s sections – let them have their moment to shine. At the same, chipping in a little on each other’s slides can really help demonstrate a positive team dynamic, showing that each of you understands the whole proposal and that you’ve worked together on it.

I tell junior colleagues not to be nervous of big pitches because at the end of the day, it’s just a conversation with some other business people. They’ve asked us to talk about some ideas, and they’re going to be genuinely interested in what you have to say. The performance element of a pitch is a lot of fun, but you’re not being judged and nobody’s going to give you a hard time if you trip over your words – showing a human side and making a connection with the client is just as important as giving them strong ideas.

Leaders should try to create a ‘no pressure’ environment for their team – it’s hard to do great work if you’re terrified of screwing up, so make everybody feel relaxed and comfortable about the pitch. They’ll do a much better job that way. You win or lose a pitch as a team.

(Image credit: Dennis Skley)

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