No such thing as over-rehearsing

The pitch team has been working madly for weeks on a major RFP that could, should you win it, make the difference between a good and a great year for your agency.

The pitch team has been working madly for weeks on a major RFP that could, should you win it, make the difference between a good and a great year for your agency. They've done a ton of research, come up with deep insights, developed smart strategy, brainstormed truly disruptive creative ideas, and articulated cutting-edge tactics in both traditional and social realms that should wow the prospective client.

Concurrent to this tsunami of activity, they've also been thinking of compelling ways to present the material using (choose one or more): PowerPoint, videos, boards, easels, tchotchkes, office tours, live or recorded audio/video greetings from distant offices, hot air balloons, etc. All that's left now is to pull everything together into a cohesive presentation that will show off the great work and, just as importantly, the strong agency team who will carry it out.

And, in the real world, that's the point at which the wheels can come off the wagon. Why?

Because even though you have the best of intentions to pull everything together into a smooth-running presentation, it doesn't always happen. The reason for that is the pitch team didn't rehearse. As my friend Dave Coronna at Burson-Marsteller used to say, “A quick run-through in the taxi on the way to the client meeting does not a rehearsal make.”

Here's an example of one pitch I attended where the well-meaning agency obviously hadn't rehearsed before they walked into their own conference room. It was to be an hour-and-a-half hour presentation including 20 minutes for client Q&A. Representing the client was the VP of corporate communications and four of her key people.

Face to face with the client, the agency team didn't seem to have any idea where we or they should sit. Finally settled, we visitors noted that several of the pitch-team members were exchanging business cards, meeting for the first time.

Next, the agency CEO spent a half hour speaking off the cuff regaling us with his personal history. Then the agency's creative head spent the next half hour telling us about largely irrelevant programs he was particularly proud of before finally circling around to the prospect in front of him. No one else had said a word. At this point, practice leaders had to rush through their sections just getting to the salient parts of the program when we hit the 90-minute mark. In the rush, hand-offs were flubbed, slides were skipped, rattled team members forgot their key points, and the client team didn't have time to ask questions.

The pitch was a disaster. The account lead with 21 years' experience in the client's business space hadn't been able to get two words in, so the client had no feel for him and his relevant thinking. Lacking cohesion and seemingly no plan for the meeting, the client wondered, “If they can't pull off a smooth presentation, how well organized could their actual program be?”

All in all, it was a bad day for the agency and, as you can imagine, they didn't win the business. And not because of the quality of their suggested program, though we never found out what that was. They lost because they erected and stumbled over their own roadblocks wasting thousands of dollars worth of hard work and effort simply because they did not take the time to rehearse.

While you hopefully haven't committed all of these sins in one pitch, you almost surely have done one or more of these and others. How can you make sure that your team's hard work isn't torpedoed by a poor presentation? You know the answer… rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

Required is a minimum of two complete run-throughs with no stops or interruptions. Include all presenters, even the CEO. Work out how it will flow and ensure that all the concepts are in order and agree with one another. Deciding who is going to keep track of time, come up with signals to use in case someone goes off the rails, and much more should all be planned before the actual rehearsals.

Invest the rehearsal time up front and you'll have your best chance to win the business. Skip this crucial step in your pitch process and you'll be investing the same or even more time after the fact pointing fingers and licking your wounds

Dan Orsborn, CEO of Orsborn Partners, has spent most of the last decade leading PR agency searches for major marketers. His column will tap into his expertise, from both sides of the equation, on the agency-search process. He can be reached at dorsbornco@aol.com.

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