In search of perfect pitch

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In baseball, a pitch that was perfect in Abner Doubleday's era would still be pretty darn good today--the dimensions of the strike zone have stayed remarkably consistent through the history of the game.

Likewise, the pitch that advertising agencies use to woo prospective clients hasn't changed much over the years, either.

Although our presentations are slicker and our technology is more sophisticated than that used by our Stone Age predecessors––you know, way back in the '90s—the fundamentals are basically the same: We use our response to an RFP to earn the right to visit the prospective client's headquarters, where, dressed for success, we do our best to prove that we are absolutely the only outfit that can take their brand to the next level, because despite having never worked with their brand, we know it, and its needs, intimately.

Then we leave—exhausted—head to the airport and debrief in a terminal bar over too many dirty martinis.

Why hasn't the way we pitch evolved along with everything else in our industry? Is there a better way? There might be several.

Speed Pitching. Consolidates representatives of all the competing agencies at a row of tables in one large room. As the client-company execs works their way down “agency row” each team has exactly five minutes to prove its mettle.

No PowerPoint presentations allowed here, folks—this is a chemistry test! Either it's there or it isn't. Pros: Quick, cheap and a timesaver for everyone involved. Cons: Tilts the playing field in favor of fast-talkers who have style but lack substance.

Slo-Pitch. This approach has as its foundation the philosophy that an agency and a client need to ensure they can sucessfully co-habitate over the long haul in a brand space before any contract is signed. Like a trial marriage (remember that term?), the two parties move in together for an allotted period of time to make sure they can make a go of the real thing. A month of sharing meals, laundry, chores along with brainstorming and ideation sessions would probably do it. Pros: By the end of the month, you and your potential client will know each other very, very well. Cons: See “pros” above.

Ambush Pitching. One characteristic of traditional pitching is that everything is extremely well planned. By the time pitch day comes around, the agency teams know exactly what they are going to say, when they are going to say it, and what slide is going to be on the screen when they're saying it. Ambush pitching does away with all that preparation—instead of competing agencies arriving at their potential clients' offices at a set time on a certain day, the prospective clients pay
surprise visits to the agencies they are considering. They simply show up. The rest is left up to the agency.

After all, an agency should be nimble, be able to think on its feet and respond effectively to crisis situations, right? The CEO is home with a sick kid? The creative director is on a shoot in Borneo? The account manager is having root canal? If you can't get your act together right now, kiss this account good-bye! Pros: Lots of fun for the agency-seeking company; takes the travel onus off the agency and puts it on the client. Cons: Would any day be a good day for this to happen at your agency?

Maureen Mangiavas is senior director, business development at The Hal Lewis Group

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