The Price of a Pitch

The £14m it cost Virgin to tender for the west coast rail franchise is a sobering reminder of the financial commitment involved in pitching for business.

What’s worse is that the process itself is notoriously unreliable, not least because it is all too easy to misjudge, as HM Government seems to have done in the case of the railway. 

Pitching has long been a way of life in our business, advertising.  And judging objectively which proposal will serve you best is even harder when the product you’re buying is an unproven creative idea, and projections of the likely returns are little more than guesswork.

Of the four deciding factors in a pitch – Content, Format, Style and Chemistry – the one known to have most influence most often on the outcome is actually Chemistry.  Content comes last.  It’s the same with job interviews apparently.

In truth, you can tell at least as much about an agency from its past work as you can from that produced in the heat of a pitch.  The most successful campaigns are seldom those that win pitches, because they tend to be the ‘safe’ option.  Really successful, stand-out campaigns are more likely to be those developed by an agency and client who’ve been working together for a while, and who really understand and trust each other.

If you really want a pitch, perhaps offer to pay for it, you may well get some better ideas.

But appoint an agency on the basis of its track record and you’ll probably make a better choice.  They’ll certainly appreciate your perspicacity.  They might even reward you for it.

Robin Petherbridge

November 2012