Pandemic pitching: a gift and a curse

Ali Plonchak, managing partner, Crossmedia
Ali Plonchak, managing partner, Crossmedia

The flow of new business pitches in the past six months has been relieving. But this isn't business as usual.

The flow of new business pitches in the past six months has been relieving -- and a bit surprising.  

Many agencies have gone through a whirlwind of Zoom chemistry meetings, late night fine-tuning and post-pitch virtual high-fives. The rush of adrenaline that comes with a new business opportunity has almost made me feel "normal" — despite the gaping void in my Delta Skymiles.  

But this isn’t business as usual. Both the mechanics and the emotions of a pitch, from annoyance to elation to validation, are amplified when the world seems so precarious. I’ve been amazed to see how pitches have brought out the best in people -- and the worst.

A transparent, fair and thoughtful pitch process is always a good predictor of how a client runs their business. But the pandemic has left some brands chaotically chasing solutions. RFPs range from thoughtful briefs seeking partnership to haphazard asks looking for handouts.  

I’ve encountered many panicked variations of the latter over the past six months. One client continued to move our goalposts, extending the pitch to include five rounds of deliverables (some with a two-day turnaround), only to ultimately decide not to hire an agency at all. Another called looking for a media partner, and after three rounds of meetings, decided out what they really wanted was a new creative agency. 

Then there was the DTC brand whose eyes were bigger than its stomach, ultimately losing its appetite to level up its brand ambitions and aborting a six-week pitch for a $30 million account in favor of turning off paid media entirely. 

But we have also experienced the joy of pitches that are clear, focused, and disciplined -- some even visionary. They share three key attributes:  

1. Ambition meets alignment: The client can articulate how communications fit into the holistic business objective. There are no individual stakeholders warring over personal agendas or superficial desires.   

2. Open to new POVs. A great client wants to hear your point of view and thought process  versus the “right” answer. They spar among themselves and with their agencies to reach strategic excellence. And a good agency tells the truth instead of tying into knots trying to figure out the “right” answer. 

3. Strong internal culture: It’s always better working with people who enjoy working together.  There’s very little to hide behind in our virtual world. If a prospect can’t be bothered to show their face on Zoom, how will you work hand in hand with them when this is all over?   

Unfortunately, many shops lower their standards in pitches due to P&L pressuress. But the pandemic makes it even more important for agencies to maintain a high bar. Let’s not normalize mediocrity. New business is a tremendous gift, but don’t be afraid to send the occasional dud back to the sender.

Ali Plonchak is managing partner at Crossmedia

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