You’re not alone! Two survival guides to virtual pitching during the COVID-19 crisis

Anyone who takes part in client pitches is in new territory, now that social distancing and isolation measures are in place across the UK and beyond. So how can you do it virtually and still build chemistry?

Don't be remembered as the heavy breather, and other tips for making a success of your virtual pitch, from Sophie Raine (L) and Louise Vaughan (R)
Don't be remembered as the heavy breather, and other tips for making a success of your virtual pitch, from Sophie Raine (L) and Louise Vaughan (R)

From embracing the common struggle between agency and client to coping with the streaming quality of a bootleg VHS tape, two industry professionals give their view on how to win when you’re not in the room.

Five ways to survive the virtual pitch process during the crisis

Sophie Raine
Sophie Raine

Successful agency bosses have learned that a key to growth (and the sanity of their staff) is not just in the new business pitches progressed with, but also the ones turned down.

There are myriad reasons why one might decide to say no to a pitch, but for me the number-one red flag is a lack of face-time with the client in the process.

When chemistry is cited over and over again as a key reason for an appointment, I struggle to justify progressing if there’s no opportunity to meet in person.

Client-based abroad? No problem. I’d rather stump up the cost to fly the team over than endure a virtual pitch.

So what the heck do I do when a deadly virus attacks our planet, putting an end to human contact for the foreseeable?

I have to not only radically overhaul my usual ways of working (and socialising), but I'm also forced to break my primary pitch rule.

During a time when agencies need new business opportunities more than ever, how do we navigate pitching in this virtual working world we find ourselves in?

1. Still say no. Given the current climate, it may be tempting to agree to pitch for “the Uber of the X industry” that has an “unlimited budget for the right idea”, but stick to your guns and continue to recognise those pitch banana skins.

2. Embrace the common ground. I might not have precious face-time, but never again – during a pitch process or otherwise – will I share so much commonality with a client. We’re united in the face of adversity, both stuck in the same boat trying to survive in uncharted waters.

3. Request Facetime in the absence of face-time. If, in the years BC (Before Coronavirus), you would typically meet a client two or three times during a pitch process, you want to aim to double that during the crisis. In the absence of being able to 'read the room', ask for more check-ins with the client to ensure the response is on track.

4. Embrace the old. We’re adopting new work technology quicker than Tesco delivery slots are getting booked up, but don’t dismiss traditional methods to inject that all-important pitch theatre into the big day. It’s OK to use snail mail to send pitch props to the client with instructions on when in the process they should be unveiled (alongside reassurance that the goods have been thoroughly disinfected first).

5. Use the sounding boards at your disposal. When you've been working with the same group of people cracking a response together, it's easy to disappear up each other’s arses and think you've answered all the client's business problems with your breathtakingly creative big idea. Use the time at home to 'sanity check' your thinking with the genuine consumers frequenting your water cooler (aka your kitchen tap) – your family/housemates.

After all, it’s not like you all have anywhere else to be right now.

Sophie Raine is managing director, consumer brands, at Ketchum London

Pitching from quarantine? You’re not alone

Louise Vaughn
Louise Vaughn

The wheels for new opportunities don’t stop turning, even in a time of national emergency.

Some sectors have understandably hit the pause button, but others are making the most of a bad situation and are focusing on getting their comms plans in place for the ‘new normal’.

For PR agencies, this inevitably means having to deal with the dreaded remote pitch.

Whether you’re working with Microsoft Teams or diligently following live news updates on Twitter or the Guardian live blog, we can all agree that modern technology is critical right now.

But there’s no denying the fact that when it comes to a new business pitch, tech just doesn’t quite cut it.

I’m sure all agencies have concluded that remote pitching is a bit of a nightmare.

It’s not because creative and strategic thinking has disappeared, but because, no matter how many tests you do before the pitch, on the day – no, the minute – the pitch is due to start, something goes wrong.

When you finally do connect, not everyone will be there. In fact, it’s almost always the key decision-maker who has wandered off into a technological cul-de-sac.

So, you wait, engage in small talk, and do your best to pick up on physical cues from a screen that’s constantly freezing or has the streaming quality of a bootleg VHS tape.

Frustratingly, those 10 minutes of niceties are still deducted from your pitch time.

A digital hour is still the same as an analogue hour, even if they are not comparable in any other way.

But enough about the negatives. The reality is that we’re all having to do this, so let’s look at tips to ensure that the remote pitch does work in your favour.

First, if there is the opportunity for a chemistry call before the pitch to ‘refine the brief’, use it. It’s much easier to build up a connection and read triggers on a one-to-one call or Skype than it is during a remote pitch. This can pay huge dividends in what you focus on.

Ensure that the proposal you’re sharing with a prospect can stand on its own, and doesn’t totally depend on you and your dubious connection to fully sell it.

With screen-sharing, the visual element of your proposal will be under more scrutiny than normal, so make it engaging.

Take the time to set up properly. Video calls are better than just audio, but make sure your background isn’t distracting, there’s no dubious stains on your wall, and that your camera isn’t sharing a close-up of your chin or nostril.

Chemistry is obviously much easier face-to-face, but it’s still achievable digitally. Tone is incredibly important, so keep yours light, bright and try to avoid setting up in rooms with a bad echo.

When you are not speaking, mute your mic. Heavy breathing isn’t the USP that you want to be remembered by – equally, use a headset if your WiFi connection isn’t the best.

Remember that the client is dealing with the same issues you are, so if you’re juggling your work with the delights of homeschooling, or get interrupted by your child, partner or parakeet, it’s not the end of the world.

Finally, always reinforce the fact that you’re available for any questions, clarification or follow-ups. Touch base with them after the call and ask whether they need anything else from you and the team.

Louise Vaughan is founder and managing director of Definition

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