It is time for PR agencies to refrain from thrusting technology to the
fore and get back to personal values, says Cristina Stuart
Pitching for new business is fast becoming a hi-tech affair.
With a PC now on every public relations manager’s desk, there’s a
tendency to reach for the keyboard, call up the presentation software
and create a pitch that’s centred around a stream of visual aids.
Consultancies seem to feel that unless they use the latest laptop or LCD
projector to show these carefully prepared visuals, they will appear
dated against their competitors.
But the trouble with technology is that it tends to take centre stage.
Public relations executives are tempted to spend more time creating
condensed versions of their script than concentrating on the key
messages they want to put across.
When it comes to the big day itself, the people who will actually do the
job get pushed into the wings by an array of hi-tech equipment.
The public relations industry seems to have forgotten a fundamental fact
of life - which is, quite simply, that people buy people not visuals or
I have seen far too many new business pitches delivered by anxious
looking presenters who are concentrating more on the screen than on the
impact of their message on the audience.
Just as bad are the presentations that are dominated by an endless
stream of dull, complicated slides that fail to create either
understanding or excitement.
When I ask companies what made them choose one public relations
consultancy over another, they usually tell me it was because they liked
the people and felt they could work with them. The proposals may have
been equally creative, the credentials evenly matched, but it was the
personal chemistry that tipped the balance.
No-one has ever told me they chose an agency because they liked their
visual aids or thought they were a dab hand at operating a laptop.
I firmly believe it’s time for PR people to take a step back and
question this dependency on highly visual presentations. Surely, each
new business opportunity should be judged individually?
Presenting your visuals with the latest LCD projector may well be
appropriate when you are trying to convince an IT company that you
understand their industry. A charity, however, may well feel more at
home with a presentation that’s delivered on their rickety OHP, but
shows a real understanding of the issues and the limitations of the
Some presentations may not need visuals at all.
A visual aid should live up to its name. It is a device to help people
understand something that cannot easily be conveyed in words - not a
handy prompt for the presenter or a chance to show off artistic talent.
New technology - even carefully chosen and professionally used - will
rarely give an agency the edge in the new business beauty parade. People
who know their stuff and have been trained to show empathy,
understanding and enthusiasm will always win the day.
There is no substitute for building rapport with a prospective client,
demonstrating that you understand their business and have appreciated
the issues that lie behind the brief.
It is personalities - not PCs - that should leave the lasting impression
as the pitch team close the door behind them.
Cristina Stuart is managing director of presentation training company