Passionate presentations win business

Demonstrating heart, creativity, and preparation helps in having a successful pitch

On a hot Texas day last September, a team from Richards Partners put on sneakers and pedometers and walked to the American Heart Association (AHA) offices to pitch Start! business, a program that seeks to get people walking.

"Demonstrating passion helps differentiate you," says Ruth Fitzgibbons, principal at Richards Partners. "If you really want [the business] and it's a great fit, blow the roof off in terms of a creative approach to making them see that. By walking to the pitch, we showed we had passion for what they were trying [to] promote. We also demonstrate[d] how close we were, [which] we thought would be an advantage."

AHA awarded Richards Partners the business. Alex Barbieri, AHA's senior cause manager of cause initiatives and integrated marketing, notes via e-mail that the agency's reputation, strategic ideas, and thorough research all influenced the decision, but walking to and from the pitch was "the pice de rŽsistance."

Barbieri adds that the pitch team would also staff the account, and that the agency makes AHA feel like its most important client. These factors provided AHA "a very high level of confidence," he says.

Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE) won Texas Instruments' (TI) digital light processing (DLP) business last fall by showing what it would be like to work with the agency.

"We try to show what we want them to walk away with, rather than just espousing facts," says Sarah Russ, WE VP and Austin office GM. "We present [ideas], but we're also discussing. Try to give real life situations. If they don't give us a specific situation, we pick one so they can get a snapshot of what it would be like to work with us."

Kateri Gemperle, worldwide media relations manager of TI's DLP products, notes that WE's handling of the RFP was revealing and that willingness to collaborate on picking the best team for the business was the "tipping point" for choosing the agency.

"We had a pretty tightly outlined RFP process," Gemperle says. "[WE was] willing and thorough, [which] let us know they were diligent and a viable culture fit. The essence of their presentation was experiential. It's little things - everything from putting their success in context of what matters in our industry to delivering strategic ideas that we could act on. They conveyed that they understand business challenges far beyond PR's role to solve. That let us know they're up to par, then the creativity they wove into the presentation was respected."

Research should inform all aspects of your approach. Tony Telloni, Burson-Marsteller MD and New York market leader, says potential clients generally want to see creativity, and that showing that you understand their culture makes sense as long as you're sure they're not looking to depart from that culture.

"It's not creativity for creativity's sake," Telloni says. "Make sure you're consistent. String [a creative idea] though your [entire] program. Make sure you've got data and research to back up creativity, so it comes from a source of education and credibility."

For AHA, Richards Partners taped "parking lot intercept" interviews with people about physical activity and edited it into a three-minute film for the pitch. "It's another way of demonstrating passion," Fitzgibbons says. "We showed we're willing to spend our time to understand better the motivations behind moving, or not moving, regularly. None of this was asked for in the RFP."

It's important to start developing a relationship with potential clients early in the process. "Get other people, besides the main contact, involved [by] asking additional questions," Telloni says.

Fitzgibbons agrees that "everything you can do to interface" before the pitch will help. "Chemistry that starts developing before you get into the room can propel you to a win," she says.

"People [are] always looking for the big idea," Telloni adds. "[It] might just be a way of looking at something differently or a key insight about your target audience. Some of it comes from your research. [Don't] forget to tell potential clients that you know how to do exactly what they need. They want to [know] you can do all the little things as much as you can do the big things."


  • Demonstrate passion, commitment
  • Allow research to inform your approach
  • Make presentations experiential
  • Be flexible about team composition
  • Neglect to develop relationships early
  • Bait and switch or exaggerate capability

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