New Beginnings: The Pitch — A Swing and A Miss

Back in my youth I played baseball. I became so proficient at it, there was interest from a couple of big league teams. I was thrilled to be invited to a try out, and of course dreamed of bigger things ahead.

A chain of events saw me headed for spring training with this particular team. A funny thing happened on the way to fame and wealth. Let me set this up. I could hit a fastball with no problem. I had to face a guy with a wicked curveball. The ball came, my heart raced as my eyes widened and reflexes activated and the bat swung and — the ball dropped. I looked silly when he did it again. To make matters worse, the pitcher came back with a fastball. The ball sailed past me because I froze. “Strike three!”

This is analogy applies to another type of pitch – the pitch for new business.

I armed myself with whatever is necessary to present the reason why CDM is the agency for a particular client. Just when it looks like we have a shot, a big curve-ball comes at us. It could be a question asked by a honcho at the company, and it leaves me with a befuddled look. I may have an ability to communicate, but the pitch, just like that curve-ball leads me standing there trying to figure out what to do next. That business win looks like a fading memory.

Agency people are familiar with the process. They know the elation of standing at the plate, and maybe getting a hit, only to be told later that some other team was selected.

How are you supposed to feel about this — the loss of time and money? In a word, lousy. There is no victory losing, or just competing. The goal is to win.

David Ogilvy famously said we are to swing for the fences, hit a home run. I know that apply to the work that an agency does, but unarguably you have to nail the pitch to hit a home-run.

Losing a pitch is like passing a watermelon through the bowels.

For those of you facing this string of butt-kicks should reconsider how the presentation is made. You cannot make yesterday’s argument to resolve today’s problem. Another thing is to cut down the over reliance on visuals such as slides and videos. The reason is that you want the hearer to actually listen to how and why your agency will benefit his company.

In the television series Mad Men Donald Draper creates word pictures. His style is poetic. Don also doesn’t waste time either. In examining my last presentation I spent more time talking about my agency, rather than what the client’s brand means to the consumer. Big mistake.

I remember two successful experiences. In one, we won an account by speaking about how a cosmetic company client’s product enhances beauty. Beauty is a goal to unfolds like a celestial curtain, revealing the face of an angel. Don’t laugh. It worked. Their previous slogan was “Try our product — it’s good.”

The second memorable pitch had me handing off the presentation to a colleague: Jasmine (not her real name) She fumbled, until the third person, Clarissa (not her real name either) on the team picked up where Jasmine left off. Clarissa said: “Contrary to myth, life can have do overs. Growth is watered by mistakes.” She took the client through a brief history of its marketing efforts; and how those efforts had fallen short to the point where the client felt like they were drowning. “Advertising is your life preserver. It will not abandon you. It will keep you afloat.” She was brilliant, creating word pictures and it flowed.

Afterwards, the owner of the company said appreciated our knowledge of their marketing history, company products, and its target audience. We had our act together. Of course, we had slides and video as backups, but the word pictures worked.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

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