I have a confession: I’m slightly addicted to “The Pitch.”
Recently, I spent a Sunday afternoon (yes, go ahead and laugh) catching up on season one of the unscripted reality television series, which premiered in late April on AMC and had its finale in mid-June. Each episode pits two top U.S. advertising agencies against each other to win the business of a new client.
So, while others yell obscenities at the TV during football games, I direct loud words at the screen during “The Pitch,” offering my personal evaluation from the couch of the agencies’ campaigns and pitching performances. I caught one episode while visiting my parents, and my dad made it through about half of the hour-long show before heading out, saying: “This is way too stressful
. If this is what you do at work, why would you want to watch it on the weekend?”
Because I love a good pitch—on or off the clock.
As I’m sure many of my colleagues and PR/ad friends will agree, those of us in the industry get a huge rush from preparing and delivering a big pitch—like that mix of nervousness and excitement athletes feel before a big game. To us, pitching is a challenge, and it forces us to stretch and test our creativity and skills.
Based on my viewing (and personal) experience, here are a few tips to get “The Pitch” just right:
Do your homework.
Discussing new business with a potential new client should not be a blind date. Prior to the first meeting, look over their mission, website, social media, and advertisements—get a feel for who they are, and who their competitors are. And, incorporate their personality into the pitch, such as their logo, colors and font.
Listen, and then ask.
Pay close attention to what the client wants. After hearing them out (and taking careful notes), ask questions. They will likely appreciate that you’re engaged, but be respectful of their time.
Round up the forces.
One example of when I got fired up at the TV was when an advertising executive came back after a new biz meeting with a concept in mind and ordered his staff to implement it—refusing to accept their input or ideas. The agency lost the pitch. Case in point: Teamwork pays off, and a full-staff brainstorming session could make or break a pitch.
Delegation and deadlines.
For the sake of drama, the featured agencies have seven days between the briefing and the actual pitch to complete their presentations. While there are certainly exceptions, this isn’t usually the case in a real-life scenario. To be sure staff aren’t spending the night at the office or have to turn over their cell phones to concentrate (one agency actually required this), determine who is best to complete different parts of a presentation or proposal, and set realistic deadlines.
Practice makes perfect.
A pitch is not the time or place to “wing it and hope for the best.” Last year, I participated in a pitch to a client located a few hours away. On the drive, I went through my part of the presentation in my head and practiced my spiel out-loud (and probably got some nice looks from other drivers). When the big moment came to deliver, I was comfortable and knew what to say—and when to say it.
Prepare for the unexpected.
I had to hide under a pillow when one agency went to show a video during a pitch and the screen was black. To prevent nightmares like this, have multiple back-up plans. Before an important presentation, I always test it on a few computers in different locations, and have it saved on my laptop, on a flash drive and emailed to myself, just in case.
Celebrate wins—and losses.
Tears will likely get shed over a big pitch, whether it’s happy or sad tears. Not every campaign, as genius as you may think it is, will get selected. But, whatever the outcome, celebrating the team’s effort is critical. Either way, just having the opportunity to play in the game is an achievement in itself and should be celebrated.
Tune into “The Pitch”
—repeats are on AMC, view it On Demand or download episodes through iTunes. Warning: It may make you throw popcorn at the screen because, obviously, there are a hundred ways you would have done it differently.
Hana Bieliauskas is a project manager in the Columbus, Ohio, office of CMA (@CMABuildsTrust), a national public relations agency based in Kansas City, Mo. Follow her on Twitter @hanab08. A version of this story first appeared on the CMA blog.