The Pitch Doctor

Published 05.09.2016

Err… What’s a Pitch Doctor?

Well first of all, here’s my position on pitching. It can be a painful process, a total waste of time or the moment we live for… certainly they are risky. Hard to manage. And always challenging. But sometimes the ONLY way to get ‘that’ client that you want.

The problem is that there isn’t a better way for brand owners to confidently make the decision of which agency to choose from without investing a HUGE amount of time and effort.

That IS time and effort I recommend however. I am currently writing a guide on “how to find an agency without the pain of a pitch” for brand owners. Pitching isn’t the only or best way to find the perfect agency partner. But it’s the most common. And it’s not going anywhere soon. So agencies have to embrace them or reject them. It doesn’t make any sense moaning about them.

The problem with pitching is many fold. They are generally speculative. Most agencies have a sub 30% win ratio. Making them a big gamble. And they come at the expense of paid work. And for your people, at the expense often of their wellbeing, their home life and, (momentarily hopefully) their sanity.

Pitching then, only makes sense, if you win. A lot.

Pitching to win is serious business. It ‘finds you out’ as an agency. It shows you what you’re best at, and where you’ve got serious work to do. The trick with pitching then, is a. choose the right pitches to participate in. And, b. to maximise your chances of winning at every stage.

I believe if you pitch, you set a budget and then throw the kitchen sink at it. You plan early. Write brilliant briefs for every department involved. Getting the team together and agreeing who will be pitching very early on.

The problem is, any good agency is 90% committed in terms of capacity every week… if not more. So where does the critical resource, budget, pitch team, energy and talent to respond within 10-20 working days come from.

And how do you get the sequencing right to allow you to do your best work. Who writes the briefs? Who asks the client questions within the first 24hrs? Who figures out what we need to produce? Who runs this process? Who can judge the creative? Where do you find the right creative or planners if you need to outsource? Who will come up with the ideas? And who puts together or drive the final proposal, pricing and associated assets?

That’s what I do working alongside your internal teams as a Pitch Consultant, or as it’s been termed… Pitch Doctor.

I ask myself with every fresh pitch brief, “what will win the pitch?”. It sounds obvious – but it changes your approach. It makes you address early the things that should not be ignored. And also, it keeps you honest. Should we pitch for this? Can we win? Do we have time? Do we need to make time? Have we got the resource? Second place doesn’t make sense. If you do it, do it to win.

When it comes to qualifying whether we should pitch for a client or not most agencies don’t have a standard approach – often going for everything and everything – derailing the agency’s service levels and standards at the same time.

Out of interest, I used to use the following filter when deciding who to pitch for – the 7 Fs, borrowed from a very bright agency owner a few years ago. A prospect had to tick three to qualify as a pitch I would ran at. The F’s are:

  1. Footstep – A footstep into industry we want to be in. A starting point to more experience.
  2. Fame – High exposure to important decision makers, community, great work, or punching above our weight.
  3. Fun – Just that. Good for the team and something different, a great morale builder and good for the portfolio.
  4. Financial – May not be something we are going after but can makes sense for us financially, fitting with our business plan.
  5. Future – We believe in the client, people or business and think it is going somewhere – and we want to go with them, even if it doesn’t make us any money now.
  6. Fit – We know their business, or it’s right in our sweet spot.
  7. Fee – A mid to long-term regular client, then it could be a great piece of retained business which is good for us commercially.

Throughout my career I’ve maintained a 80% + pitch:win ration. Not because I’ve dodged big pitches. Far from it. But by always focusing on what the client wants, and giving it EVERYTHING that we have. Challenger agencies need to behave like challenger brands – and that means we have to show more heart than the global network agencies. And it pays off.

Pro-activity is a major success driver. It’s vital to move fast and with quality, impressing the brand owner at every stage. You can be half way to winning before you step into the room. It’s amazing how many agencies respond slowly or poorly early on. They don’t even know that they have lost before they’ve fully read the brief. It’s critical to maintain contact, organising the team early. Find that killer insight. Knowing as much or more than the client about their space. Addressing your weaknesses as well as your strengths in your pitch. Clients smell bullshit a mile away. Honesty goes a long way.

Then there’s creating beautiful and irresistible presentations and pitch assets. Investing in research (yes – spending money on bespoke research!) It all counts. And, of course, with coming up with ruthlessly simple but killer ideas, that come to life in every channel. Ideas that the client cannot wait to use. And a deck that flows seamlessly from start-to-finish, presented by a well coached and thus supremely confident but natural pitch team.

As a Pitch Doctor I can help with MUST-WIN pitches, at every stage of the process (from briefing, strategy and approach through to creative, proposal development and pitch team coaching) loading the odds in your favour. It takes a monumental effort to pull off a winning pitch – and there is help out there at every stage if you need it.

If you’d like to know more about how I can help, get in touch. Drop an email to