To Zoom or Not to Zoom – will screen-free pitching take centre stage again?

In PR you have to love drama. You have to love getting brands out of it – and yourself into it.

To Zoom or Not to Zoom – will screen-free pitching take centre stage again?

In my experience, the best PR people have a little bit of the dramatics about them. I’m not talking Line of Duty shoot-out or Drag Race theatrics (although the latter is my favourite); it’s more the spirit of Italia Conti freshman year we are talking about here.

Many PR people have more than a light touch of the show-offs about them, and boy do we need it. In agency life I would say about 60 per cent of the job is spent treading the boards in our great professional theatre: the pitch.

Now, many years into my PR career, I could confidently scoop a Tony for a performance in the play titled A Life in Powerpoint (OK, it lacks a bit of the Bard’s touch, I admit). So you can imagine how, for us alumni of PR pitch theatre school, our ‘art’ required retraining when we relocated to the small screen of the Zoom box, away from a live boardroom audience.

We longed for the thrill of the pre-pitch green room (coffee-making area), the hush as the audience (clients) took their seats, the elation after a great strategic monologue is delivered and the audience gaze at each other in rapt applause (quiet notetaking, but a hand-clap has been known), and the celebrations in a Soho boozer clutching a bouquet of roses (some snacks snatched from the stockroom cupboard).

Zoom pitching has meant a rewrite of these well-worn rituals, and the creation of more individualistic ones at that. Some of my new WFH pitch superstitions I can proudly say are working wonders: thank you lucky lipstick and pre-pitch plant-watering, the combination of which has a 100 per cent hit rate.

Any great performance – be it pitch or play – requires:

1. Meaningful, entertaining content

2. Memorable, believable characters, and

3. A connection between audience and player… and it is this final piece that has been our lockdown challenge.

The drama of the pitch is not just in the jeopardy of winners and losers, but in the coming together of client and agency to forge something in the room together. The energy between the two is what makes those standout moments. A pitch room is alive with emotion and expectation. The creative tension fizzes, the brains whir with fast-thinking, room-reading telepathy. The wisdom of years of experience plus the zing of fresh perspectives, a healthy dose of swagger combined with the PR art form of sublimation. In an era of Mute buttons, this energy is immutable.

Until we can once again obsess over meeting-room seating arrangements, and in today’s world precisely how many metres apart the seats should be, I’ll wait for ‘the meeting host’ to let me in. But I’ll be silently clinging to this extended metaphor and, like Liza Minelli in her prime, I’ll be waiting for my final call to the boardroom where pitch dreams are made. I’ll see you at curtain up.

Lucy Hart is head of strategy & insight at Engine Mischief

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