FOCUS: PITCHING; There’s no business like new business

PRESENTATION: Forget slides, today’s clients expect presentations that can be updated at the click of a mouse COST OF A PITCH: Preparing a presentation is a costly gamble, which can monopolise staff and agency time IMAGINATIVE PITCHING: MCM Events captured the Sony Playstation account with a low-cost, but novel idea

PRESENTATION: Forget slides, today’s clients expect presentations that

can be updated at the click of a mouse

COST OF A PITCH: Preparing a presentation is a costly gamble, which can

monopolise staff and agency time

IMAGINATIVE PITCHING: MCM Events captured the Sony Playstation account

with a low-cost, but novel idea

The ready availability of hi-tech tools means that pitching to a

potential client has never been easier, but is there more to

presentation than flash technology? Susan Gray reports

Pitching for new business is increasingly turning into show business, a

development that’s been fuelled by advances in presentation technology.

Multimedia presentations are replacing talking heads, flipcharts and

overhead projectors, allowing clients to sit back and enjoy the show

rather than just attend an up-tempo business meeting.

According to Burson- Marsteller’s corporate and financial sector

managing director Paul Philpotts, agencies stand to gain as much from

hi-tech advances as their clients.

‘E-mail means offices in different countries can work on a pitch

document simultaneously, and any necessary amendments can be done on

screen. This saves time that would otherwise be spent in faxing,

altering texts and refaxing, and it lets organisations work across

different time zones more effectively,’ says Philpotts.

The interests of the agency’s Internet-based clients - London Mall

shopping service and People Bank recruitment - have encouraged Burson-Marsteller to explore video conferencing on the information

superhighway. The agency uses CUSeeMe, a system developed by Cornell

University which provides black and white video conferencing facilities

without the cost or bulk of traditional Integrated System Digital

Network (ISDN) equipment.

Wired Burson-Marsteller clients can enjoy a virtual presentation using

on-screen whiteboards with text and slides.

‘The Internet is a maturing medium,’ says Philpotts, ‘and it’s still too

early to say how technology will develop. Technologies that run the

World Wide Web are changing too rapidly. Clients like the fact that we

are using the Internet because they know it means we can respond to

their needs quickly.’

‘At the moment the Internet is at the same stage as the corporate video

was ten years ago,’ he adds. ‘Everyone wants a web site, but they don’t

always know how to use it to its full advantage. In the pitch of the

future, agencies will be so comfortable with the technology that we

won’t even have to think about the running of it.’

Miles Johnson, managing director of the Presentation Company also says

that technology is an aid in the pitching process. ‘With laptop

presentations there’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time.

Credentials, press cuttings and case studies, which usually make up 60

per cent of a presentation can be stored on disk,’ he says.

‘Once an agency is committed to using the right technology and puts

appropriate resources into creating the material, it becomes simple.

It’s just a maintenance job after that, topping up as needed.’

Johnson also argues that technology allows agencies to put more time

into the creative side of the pitch, rather than preparing slides and

shuffling acetates.

Diana Soltmann managing director of Millbank, whose client list ranges

from Lot Airlines and Luncheon Vouchers to satellite broadcasters The

Disney Channel and QVC, gives techno-pitching tools a slightly more

cautious welcome.

‘Some clients are impressed by whizz bang,’ she says, ‘but they still

need to distill from the presentation whether they can work with these

people. It could be that whizz bang is all you get and in three months’

time the account director’s gone and the team has totally changed.’

Soltmann urges horses for courses: ‘A flipchart can be adequate for a

meeting on a small project, and traditional clients like law firms and

merchant banks can be upset by anything too flash. But Nintendo would

expect a console presentation.’

Lexis director Hugh Birley is another techno-sceptic. ‘Agencies can

shelter behind the latest technology. Ultimately the client is judging

the pitch on the quality of the people, not the quality of the

acetates,’ he says.

Birley believes preparation makes or breaks a pitch. ‘The principle is

that you cannot suggest a PR solution if you do not know the business at

least as well as the client.’

Before pulling in the Gordon’s Gin account, for example, the Lexis

account team embarked on the not-unpleasurable task of touring various

watering holes talking to fellow gin drinkers.

According to Birley, this research enabled the agency to match the

consumers’ view of the product to the client’s. Possibly less enjoyable,

was the time spent frying wings and legs to the Colonel’s secret recipe

prior to pitching for the KFC account.

End-user business research does not always pay off however. Birley

brought his dog to a pet food pitch and fed his pooch the product. The

dog was promptly sick under the boardroom table, and not surprisingly

the business did not go to Lexis.

He concludes: ‘Technology can confuse as much as it can enlighten.

Really it’s down to personality and ideas and never working with


Effective pitches begin long before the account team presents to the

client, according to the major agencies. Chris Woodcock, deputy managing

director at Countrywide, says that account teams should undertake a two

part preparation programme before any pitch.

Firstly, the team refines the brief and returns to the client, to hammer

out exactly what is needed. Secondly, as the pitch is being put

together, an expert from outside the account team plays devil’s

advocate, pointing out shortfalls in the embryonic pitch.

Miles Johnson of the Presentation Company agrees that technology is no

substitute for knowing the client. ‘The best brief gets the business,’

he says.

Hi-tech agency Text 100’s new business manager Jane Mohan brings

together the worlds of business research and leading edge technology.

The former stockbroker says: ‘I have to add value from the moment I

approach a potential client. It can take up to three years to build a

rapport with a company so that they think about using Text 100.’

Text’s clients take familiarity with technology as a given, but Mohan

has to be sensitive to different international perceptions of


‘The Australian market is more sophisticated than Britain, using

information straight from the US market. Eastern Europe is fascinating

because it has missed out on a whole generation of technology and is

going from nowhere to state-of- the-art. Germany is hard because they

only want to hear about German products such as Siemens.’

That there is no one generic hi-tech pitch is proved by Bite, a new

agency set up by Text 100 at the time of the company’s pitch for Apple -

an account directly in conflict with Text’s client Microsoft. Bite’s MD

Matthew Ravden says that the non-hierarchical nature of the agency

mirrors the ‘leverage,’ working with minimal staff, and fast moving

style of Apple. Bite’s pitch document for Apple also reflected the

informal, free flowing relationship between agency and client.

Bite’s pro-activity is praised by Apple managers in a credentials video

prepared by the agency for a laptop presentation to computer company

Oracle. Pitching on a Monday morning, the team were able to use the

laptop to include references to the weekend newspapers, an impossibility

with old-fashioned slide presentations.

From the hi-tech client’s point of view, Steve Everhard, Apple Europe’s

new business development manager for consumer product Pippin, says that

synergy with the client has to go beyond the surface. ‘Bite was prepared

to wire up to our e-mail system. No other agency would do that. At the

pace Apple works it’s hard to get anyone on the phone, so our agency

must be integrated,’ he adds.

‘Pitches usually fall into two camps: fawning insincerity or ‘this is

how you should run your business.’ Bite did neither, but made it clear

they would work us hard and work journalists hard to get results.’

Hard work by human beings is still the hallmark of successful pitches.

As Miles Johnson of the Presentation Company says of the pitch of the

future: ‘we still can’t put a laptop in a cab and send it round to the


Jenny Edwards from the in-house PR unit at electronics giant Sharp

agrees it is grey matter that makes or breaks presentations, but

appropriate technical support provides the leading edge. ‘Presentation

is the art of creating an image, for yourself, your product and your

company. The latest technology makes it easier and better,’ she says.

Agencies wanting something more dynamic than slides and OHPs can replace

them with OHP panels and videos, which are becoming more interactive.

Retail prices for data-only OHP panels start at pounds 1,500, data and

video projection on panels will set you back pounds 2,800, and a video

and data projector costs around pounds 5,000.

Hi-tech presentations need not be reserved for stadium-sized pitches. A

backlight unit allows table-top presentation of OHP panels for small

groups. However, the importance of preparing yourself for presentations

is emphasised by PR technophiles and technophobes alike.

Edwards not surprisingly suggests that the investment in technology can

pay for itself in new business, but still says that the art of

presentation lies in preparation and knowing what’s available,

The six Ps of business success remain true: proper preparation prevents

poor pitch performance.

Costs: The pitch payment dilemma

PR agencies tend to have the same views about clients paying for

pitches, as high street banks have about charging for current accounts.

Many would dearly love to charge for the service, but realise that the

first one to do so puts themselves at a commercial disadvantage to their

competitors. So at present, PRCA director Colin Thompson’s desire for

pitch payment across the industry still seems something of a pipe dream.

Thompson argues: ‘Clients should not have to pay for credentials

pitches. But work done specifically to their brief should be charged

for, as they involve 40 or 50 hours of agency time.’

Diana Soltmann managing director of Millbank says that agencies can be

lead up the garden path by unscrupulous companies wanting a

communications programme supplied on the cheap. ‘Alarm bell should ring

if you are the only agency they are talking to, or you are part of a

beauty parade of 20,’ she says.

Soltmann approves of clients offering their shortlisted agencies a sum

of, say, pounds 2,000 to enable pitch comparison.

On the other hand Lexis director Hugh Birley says that pitching for new

business is a commercial decision. Once agencies have decided to go for

an account, they should pitch for all their worth with new business

gains off-setting the costs of pitching.

According to Birley, the main cost of a pitch is staff time, so

preparation is done outside office hours after servicing the needs of

existing clients.

While at his previous agency Text 100, Bite managing director Matthew

Ravden suggested offering clients two levels of pitch: a standard one

that was free, and a deluxe one, including extensive research, that

would be costed. Ravden’s proposal has yet to be taken up by Text or his

new agency Bite.

He says that repitching is probably the most dispiriting time for an

agency, because it is hard to know whether to accept the account is lost

or to go out fighting.

Although the IPR leave policy on pitch payment to the PRCA, press and

marketing officer Jeremy Weinberg says that he hears complaints from

marketing managers on how similar many pitches are.

‘Everybody offers press releases and roadshows, and just how do you

fairly cost staff time?’ he asks.

It seems that until the industry is pitch perfect, public relations

professionals will still be expected to put in a lot of time for free.

Case study: MCM’s hi-tech, low budget pitch

‘Like Bladerunner - The Director’s Cut, an hour of pure theatre,’ is one

of the milder descriptions of MCM Events pitch staged at Battersea

Powerstation by MD and production director Neil Crespin in a bid for the

Sony Playstation account.

‘Playstation was a busy, happening account and Sony expected a

Powerpoint pitch in the boardroom,’ says Crespin. Instead a convoy of

six Sony marketing managers were picked up by motorbike and driven into

Battersea Powerstation. Only one of the six had any inkling what was


They were driven through the warehouse part of the station and then

through a tunnel of black crepe into the station itself. The

motorcyclists disappeared and the clients found themselves surrounded by

dry ice and strobe lasers, staring at four giant blank video monitors.

The soundtrack of Oasis was toned down as MCM managing director Brian

MacLaurin addressed the Sony six through a headset from a platform

behind them, his voice echoing through the derelict powerstation. Three

other account team members gave their part of the presentation, together

with video and powerpoint on the monitors.

Having played on Play-station themes of power and levels, the

motorcyclists returned on a signal, the leader dressed in full black

leather like a Playstation character. The Sony managers duly got back on

the bike pillions, returned to headquarters and signed over the

Playstation account to MCM.

Former LBC news editor Crespin was a founding director of MCM, and set

up MCM Events four months ago turning over pounds 150,000 in those first

four months.

‘Events like Playstation need a lot of effort. We had five men working

through the night, because ironically Battersea Powerstation has no

electricity and we had to bring a generator.’

The event itself cost comparatively little, just a couple of thousand

and pounds 500 to hire the powerstation. Crespin maintains that the main

cost in technologically different pitches is imagination.


Presentation: Tools of the trade



OHP                         Low-cost and suitable for technophobes.

                            Simple to set up and use in most lighting.

Slide                       Good image quality with option of audio,

                            suitable for larger scale audiences.

LCD Panels                  Portable. Easy to use with OHPs. Allows for

                            fast updating of information.

LCD Projectors              Very portable and fast to set up. High

                            brightness for low running costs.

CRT Projectors              ‘Cinematic’ quality. Excellent video/data

                            imaging. Data/graphic systems available.

Interactive Multi-Media     Bespoke pitches for Internet age. Easy

                            distribution and updating of computer-


Video                       Atmospheric, can bring a presentation to

                            life using an increasing number of replay


Desktop Presentations       Flexible. Templates allow for fast results

                            that can be presented electronically.


OHP                         Low-tech image. Unsuitable for large

                            audiences and reliant on good presentation


Slide                       Can’t be operated in most light conditions.

                            Difficult to update at short notice.

LCD Panels                  Needs powerful OHP. Better models cost as

                            much as CRT projectors. Not ideal for video.

LCD Projectors              Not portable. Requires low lighting for

                            front projection. Data models tend to be


CRT Projectors              Top of range data/video systems are

                            expensive and audio systems are often


Interactive Multi-Media     Not for technophobes. Systems expensive.

                            Computer video relays needs fine tuning.

Video                       Hard to integrate without slowing pace of

                            presentation. Complex and costly to produce.

Desktop Presentations       High initial outlay and hidden costs of,

                            say, design bureaux. Needs good design



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