With Covid-19 having thrown normal pitch processes into disarray, how have the advertising and marketing industries managed? Virtually, of course!
While virtual pitches were not unknown before the pandemic, they were certainly not as common or frequent as they are now.
The advertising, media and marketing sectors are slowly returning to the office, and a vague sense of normality along with this, but it is clear many will still work from home. Equally clear is that travelling for pitching is just not going to happen for quite some time. In fact, in the UK, Campaign magazine reported that more than half of “adlanders” were “completely avoiding the office” after surveying 2 000 of its registered users.
From a personal perspective, Independent Agency Selection (IAS) completed a few pitches during lockdown with clients whom we only met physically after the pitch. And we have pitches that started before lockdown that were postponed, plus we have one that started in March and is still being completed.
Pitch activity has increased recently and most of it is still virtual, although our next chemistry sessions will be face to face, as will the upcoming final pitches.
Of course there are pros and cons to virtual pitching, as there are to working from home. It is time efficient with no travel necessary whether locally or city to city.
Additional meetings and Q&A sessions can be easily slotted into a pitch process, making the whole sequence more effective. Access to senior client staff is also much easier as travelling schedules have been vastly reduced at C-suite level and everyone is just more available.This means that the decision makers can be in the pitch.
Although it is less easy to read the room – a very important part of gauging client reaction during a pitch – it is possible to pick up certain nuances that can help cue questions or explanations. Technology enables a greater number of stakeholders to be included, which is very useful, as is the fact that sessions can be recorded and listened to later should clarification be required.
Locations are neutral, delivering equality for both client and agency teams irrespective of home office location. Judgement is more accurate, as there is less chance of the “theatre” of pitching obscuring the content of the pitch.
On the con side of the coin, one of the things we have noticed is that while clients are working remotely, they are constantly in touch with each other on WhatsApp. This happens throughout a pitch presentation – which of course the agency cannot see. So a great deal of communication is happening among the clients in response to the agency pitch, which the client is not sharing. This leads to ‘group speak’ instead of clients evaluating independently and only discussing after the pitch.
In addition, if the clients are working remotely and are not together in the same room for the presentation, then the agency should probably do the same thing. It is quite a contrast to hear an agency team all presenting together in the same place but virtually to the clients who are all dispersed. The rapport and repartee between the agency folk – which would be quite normal in a face-to-face pitch with client present – can be quite off-putting and excluding when the client is virtual.
Another con is that chemistry more difficult to gauge, as eye contact is harder and it can be difficult for client to detect agency team chemistry dynamics – and therefore to read them. Being unable to read the room is a drawback, as 7% of our ability to persuade comes from words, 38% from tone of voice and 55% from ‘paraverbals’, so more than half of these non-verbal cues are lost if you are not in the same room.
Something else creeping in to our processes is ‘Teams fatigue’. With so much business being conducted over Zoom or Teams these days, a pitch might be regarded by the client team as “just another meeting”, so concentration levels might not be what they need to be.
Stick to the basics
To be comfortable pitching virtually, it’s important to follow the same rules that you normally would as an agency. Make sure you rehearse fully and particularly that the technology does not trip you up. If you have large files or commercials to screen, send them separately ahead of the pitch for client to open at the appropriate time. And try limit the theatre, as this can be very distracting when it is virtual.
Stick to your times: just because it is virtual does not mean you have more time. Clients have extraordinary time pressures at the moment, with many of them working with reduced teams.
Negotiation meetings post-pitch are very important, and what’s really good now is that there is more time for discussion, which can all be done over Teams as opposed to email. Financial/commercial discussions can often go awry but in this virtual world they seem to be easier and less stressful for all concerned.
We think that in future, pitches will be a combination of virtual and physical, depending on the location of the client and agency team. With this greater flexibility comes more opportunity, which we believe will also extend into other countries in Africa.
Johanna McDowell is the founder and CEO of Independent Agency Selection and managing partner of SCOPEN Africa. McDowell has built her career in marketing and advertising since 1974, starting out in marketing in the UK then holding directorships in both South Africa and British advertising agencies until she was appointed managing director of Grey Phillips Advertising in 1988. She founded the IAS in 2007.
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