PRESENTATION: Forget slides, today’s clients expect presentations that
can be updated at the click of a mouse
COST OF A PITCH: Preparing a presentation is a costly gamble, which can
monopolise staff and agency time
IMAGINATIVE PITCHING: MCM Events captured the Sony Playstation account
with a low-cost, but novel idea
The ready availability of hi-tech tools means that pitching to a
potential client has never been easier, but is there more to
presentation than flash technology? Susan Gray reports
Pitching for new business is increasingly turning into show business, a
development that’s been fuelled by advances in presentation technology.
Multimedia presentations are replacing talking heads, flipcharts and
overhead projectors, allowing clients to sit back and enjoy the show
rather than just attend an up-tempo business meeting.
According to Burson- Marsteller’s corporate and financial sector
managing director Paul Philpotts, agencies stand to gain as much from
hi-tech advances as their clients.
‘E-mail means offices in different countries can work on a pitch
document simultaneously, and any necessary amendments can be done on
screen. This saves time that would otherwise be spent in faxing,
altering texts and refaxing, and it lets organisations work across
different time zones more effectively,’ says Philpotts.
The interests of the agency’s Internet-based clients - London Mall
shopping service and People Bank recruitment - have encouraged Burson-Marsteller to explore video conferencing on the information
superhighway. The agency uses CUSeeMe, a system developed by Cornell
University which provides black and white video conferencing facilities
without the cost or bulk of traditional Integrated System Digital
Network (ISDN) equipment.
Wired Burson-Marsteller clients can enjoy a virtual presentation using
on-screen whiteboards with text and slides.
‘The Internet is a maturing medium,’ says Philpotts, ‘and it’s still too
early to say how technology will develop. Technologies that run the
World Wide Web are changing too rapidly. Clients like the fact that we
are using the Internet because they know it means we can respond to
their needs quickly.’
‘At the moment the Internet is at the same stage as the corporate video
was ten years ago,’ he adds. ‘Everyone wants a web site, but they don’t
always know how to use it to its full advantage. In the pitch of the
future, agencies will be so comfortable with the technology that we
won’t even have to think about the running of it.’
Miles Johnson, managing director of the Presentation Company also says
that technology is an aid in the pitching process. ‘With laptop
presentations there’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time.
Credentials, press cuttings and case studies, which usually make up 60
per cent of a presentation can be stored on disk,’ he says.
‘Once an agency is committed to using the right technology and puts
appropriate resources into creating the material, it becomes simple.
It’s just a maintenance job after that, topping up as needed.’
Johnson also argues that technology allows agencies to put more time
into the creative side of the pitch, rather than preparing slides and
Diana Soltmann managing director of Millbank, whose client list ranges
from Lot Airlines and Luncheon Vouchers to satellite broadcasters The
Disney Channel and QVC, gives techno-pitching tools a slightly more
‘Some clients are impressed by whizz bang,’ she says, ‘but they still
need to distill from the presentation whether they can work with these
people. It could be that whizz bang is all you get and in three months’
time the account director’s gone and the team has totally changed.’
Soltmann urges horses for courses: ‘A flipchart can be adequate for a
meeting on a small project, and traditional clients like law firms and
merchant banks can be upset by anything too flash. But Nintendo would
expect a console presentation.’
Lexis director Hugh Birley is another techno-sceptic. ‘Agencies can
shelter behind the latest technology. Ultimately the client is judging
the pitch on the quality of the people, not the quality of the
acetates,’ he says.
Birley believes preparation makes or breaks a pitch. ‘The principle is
that you cannot suggest a PR solution if you do not know the business at
least as well as the client.’
Before pulling in the Gordon’s Gin account, for example, the Lexis
account team embarked on the not-unpleasurable task of touring various
watering holes talking to fellow gin drinkers.
According to Birley, this research enabled the agency to match the
consumers’ view of the product to the client’s. Possibly less enjoyable,
was the time spent frying wings and legs to the Colonel’s secret recipe
prior to pitching for the KFC account.
End-user business research does not always pay off however. Birley
brought his dog to a pet food pitch and fed his pooch the product. The
dog was promptly sick under the boardroom table, and not surprisingly
the business did not go to Lexis.
He concludes: ‘Technology can confuse as much as it can enlighten.
Really it’s down to personality and ideas and never working with
Effective pitches begin long before the account team presents to the
client, according to the major agencies. Chris Woodcock, deputy managing
director at Countrywide, says that account teams should undertake a two
part preparation programme before any pitch.
Firstly, the team refines the brief and returns to the client, to hammer
out exactly what is needed. Secondly, as the pitch is being put
together, an expert from outside the account team plays devil’s
advocate, pointing out shortfalls in the embryonic pitch.
Miles Johnson of the Presentation Company agrees that technology is no
substitute for knowing the client. ‘The best brief gets the business,’
Hi-tech agency Text 100’s new business manager Jane Mohan brings
together the worlds of business research and leading edge technology.
The former stockbroker says: ‘I have to add value from the moment I
approach a potential client. It can take up to three years to build a
rapport with a company so that they think about using Text 100.’
Text’s clients take familiarity with technology as a given, but Mohan
has to be sensitive to different international perceptions of
‘The Australian market is more sophisticated than Britain, using
information straight from the US market. Eastern Europe is fascinating
because it has missed out on a whole generation of technology and is
going from nowhere to state-of- the-art. Germany is hard because they
only want to hear about German products such as Siemens.’
That there is no one generic hi-tech pitch is proved by Bite, a new
agency set up by Text 100 at the time of the company’s pitch for Apple -
an account directly in conflict with Text’s client Microsoft. Bite’s MD
Matthew Ravden says that the non-hierarchical nature of the agency
mirrors the ‘leverage,’ working with minimal staff, and fast moving
style of Apple. Bite’s pitch document for Apple also reflected the
informal, free flowing relationship between agency and client.
Bite’s pro-activity is praised by Apple managers in a credentials video
prepared by the agency for a laptop presentation to computer company
Oracle. Pitching on a Monday morning, the team were able to use the
laptop to include references to the weekend newspapers, an impossibility
with old-fashioned slide presentations.
From the hi-tech client’s point of view, Steve Everhard, Apple Europe’s
new business development manager for consumer product Pippin, says that
synergy with the client has to go beyond the surface. ‘Bite was prepared
to wire up to our e-mail system. No other agency would do that. At the
pace Apple works it’s hard to get anyone on the phone, so our agency
must be integrated,’ he adds.
‘Pitches usually fall into two camps: fawning insincerity or ‘this is
how you should run your business.’ Bite did neither, but made it clear
they would work us hard and work journalists hard to get results.’
Hard work by human beings is still the hallmark of successful pitches.
As Miles Johnson of the Presentation Company says of the pitch of the
future: ‘we still can’t put a laptop in a cab and send it round to the
Jenny Edwards from the in-house PR unit at electronics giant Sharp
agrees it is grey matter that makes or breaks presentations, but
appropriate technical support provides the leading edge. ‘Presentation
is the art of creating an image, for yourself, your product and your
company. The latest technology makes it easier and better,’ she says.
Agencies wanting something more dynamic than slides and OHPs can replace
them with OHP panels and videos, which are becoming more interactive.
Retail prices for data-only OHP panels start at pounds 1,500, data and
video projection on panels will set you back pounds 2,800, and a video
and data projector costs around pounds 5,000.
Hi-tech presentations need not be reserved for stadium-sized pitches. A
backlight unit allows table-top presentation of OHP panels for small
groups. However, the importance of preparing yourself for presentations
is emphasised by PR technophiles and technophobes alike.
Edwards not surprisingly suggests that the investment in technology can
pay for itself in new business, but still says that the art of
presentation lies in preparation and knowing what’s available,
The six Ps of business success remain true: proper preparation prevents
poor pitch performance.
Costs: The pitch payment dilemma
PR agencies tend to have the same views about clients paying for
pitches, as high street banks have about charging for current accounts.
Many would dearly love to charge for the service, but realise that the
first one to do so puts themselves at a commercial disadvantage to their
competitors. So at present, PRCA director Colin Thompson’s desire for
pitch payment across the industry still seems something of a pipe dream.
Thompson argues: ‘Clients should not have to pay for credentials
pitches. But work done specifically to their brief should be charged
for, as they involve 40 or 50 hours of agency time.’
Diana Soltmann managing director of Millbank says that agencies can be
lead up the garden path by unscrupulous companies wanting a
communications programme supplied on the cheap. ‘Alarm bell should ring
if you are the only agency they are talking to, or you are part of a
beauty parade of 20,’ she says.
Soltmann approves of clients offering their shortlisted agencies a sum
of, say, pounds 2,000 to enable pitch comparison.
On the other hand Lexis director Hugh Birley says that pitching for new
business is a commercial decision. Once agencies have decided to go for
an account, they should pitch for all their worth with new business
gains off-setting the costs of pitching.
According to Birley, the main cost of a pitch is staff time, so
preparation is done outside office hours after servicing the needs of
While at his previous agency Text 100, Bite managing director Matthew
Ravden suggested offering clients two levels of pitch: a standard one
that was free, and a deluxe one, including extensive research, that
would be costed. Ravden’s proposal has yet to be taken up by Text or his
new agency Bite.
He says that repitching is probably the most dispiriting time for an
agency, because it is hard to know whether to accept the account is lost
or to go out fighting.
Although the IPR leave policy on pitch payment to the PRCA, press and
marketing officer Jeremy Weinberg says that he hears complaints from
marketing managers on how similar many pitches are.
‘Everybody offers press releases and roadshows, and just how do you
fairly cost staff time?’ he asks.
It seems that until the industry is pitch perfect, public relations
professionals will still be expected to put in a lot of time for free.
Case study: MCM’s hi-tech, low budget pitch
‘Like Bladerunner - The Director’s Cut, an hour of pure theatre,’ is one
of the milder descriptions of MCM Events pitch staged at Battersea
Powerstation by MD and production director Neil Crespin in a bid for the
Sony Playstation account.
‘Playstation was a busy, happening account and Sony expected a
Powerpoint pitch in the boardroom,’ says Crespin. Instead a convoy of
six Sony marketing managers were picked up by motorbike and driven into
Battersea Powerstation. Only one of the six had any inkling what was
They were driven through the warehouse part of the station and then
through a tunnel of black crepe into the station itself. The
motorcyclists disappeared and the clients found themselves surrounded by
dry ice and strobe lasers, staring at four giant blank video monitors.
The soundtrack of Oasis was toned down as MCM managing director Brian
MacLaurin addressed the Sony six through a headset from a platform
behind them, his voice echoing through the derelict powerstation. Three
other account team members gave their part of the presentation, together
with video and powerpoint on the monitors.
Having played on Play-station themes of power and levels, the
motorcyclists returned on a signal, the leader dressed in full black
leather like a Playstation character. The Sony managers duly got back on
the bike pillions, returned to headquarters and signed over the
Playstation account to MCM.
Former LBC news editor Crespin was a founding director of MCM, and set
up MCM Events four months ago turning over pounds 150,000 in those first
‘Events like Playstation need a lot of effort. We had five men working
through the night, because ironically Battersea Powerstation has no
electricity and we had to bring a generator.’
The event itself cost comparatively little, just a couple of thousand
and pounds 500 to hire the powerstation. Crespin maintains that the main
cost in technologically different pitches is imagination.
Presentation: Tools of the trade
OHP Low-cost and suitable for technophobes.
Simple to set up and use in most lighting.
Slide Good image quality with option of audio,
suitable for larger scale audiences.
LCD Panels Portable. Easy to use with OHPs. Allows for
fast updating of information.
LCD Projectors Very portable and fast to set up. High
brightness for low running costs.
CRT Projectors ‘Cinematic’ quality. Excellent video/data
imaging. Data/graphic systems available.
Interactive Multi-Media Bespoke pitches for Internet age. Easy
distribution and updating of computer-
Video Atmospheric, can bring a presentation to
life using an increasing number of replay
Desktop Presentations Flexible. Templates allow for fast results
that can be presented electronically.
OHP Low-tech image. Unsuitable for large
audiences and reliant on good presentation
Slide Can’t be operated in most light conditions.
Difficult to update at short notice.
LCD Panels Needs powerful OHP. Better models cost as
much as CRT projectors. Not ideal for video.
LCD Projectors Not portable. Requires low lighting for
front projection. Data models tend to be
CRT Projectors Top of range data/video systems are
expensive and audio systems are often
Interactive Multi-Media Not for technophobes. Systems expensive.
Computer video relays needs fine tuning.
Video Hard to integrate without slowing pace of
presentation. Complex and costly to produce.
Desktop Presentations High initial outlay and hidden costs of,
say, design bureaux. Needs good design