Want to pitch in-person? Here’s what you need to know.

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With both clients and agencies asking if we’re beginning to manage pitches in-person rather than online again, it’s probably time for an update… And while I have my own views, it’s not exactly an easy yes or no answer.

Yes, businesses are opening up and most are implementing some sort of back-to-work routine which is encouraging. And one of Campaign’s lead stories this past week was about one agency group pushing or a ‘four and flex‘ back to work program with a £1,500 ($2,410) travel subsidy for its staff.

But even if we are seeing agencies and client teams heading back to their offices some of the time, perhaps the question to ask is ‘do we need to pitch in-person?’

And I’m not sure that we do. In fact, I think pitching online has inadvertently generated a number of efficiencies we may not want to part with. For example:

  1. Pitch processes can be faster – with less spacing between agency visits
  2. Client schedules – challenging at the best of times – are easier to manage
  3. Even if people are out-of-town – they can still participate

OK, so not everyone’s going to agree with that, but the reality is time is precious and I don’t see clients switching back to in-person meetings any time soon.

But hold on, what about chemistry? That only really works in-person, doesn’t it?

Actually, no.

We’ve seen some exceptional pitches over the past couple of years in which agencies have excelled at setting the stage with their prospective clients from the get-go with innovative introductions, underpinned with expert time management that immediately created empathy between teams. Energy, gravitas, enthusiasm, preparedness and team composition can’t be faked especially in an online environment, so in some cases we’d argue that chemistry is actually better evaluated online than in-person.

But there are those who will argue differently. And if you are contemplating seeing your prospective agency(s) in-person, here are some things you should consider while the current climate prevails:

  1. If you’d like to see a chemistry session (or pitch) in person, make it a request – not a requirement
  2. Keep your numbers small
  3. Be clear you respect the agency’s policy around in-person meetings and it’s their choice
  4. If you’re seeing more than one agency for your chemistry session and one says ‘no‘, change the other(s) to online sessions to ensure fairness for all.
  5. Recognize that even if agencies do pitch in-person, some staff may choose not to participate and be comfortable if some members choose to join online
  6. Be clear that if they choose not pitch in-person this will not negatively impact your decision (i.e. it’s not a decision criteria)
  7. Confirm everyone on your search team will follow safety protocols around social distancing and wearing masks and whatever additional protocols the agency may request
  8. Overkill perhaps… but check with your legal counsel to ensure you’re aligned with your company’s own policies around in-person meetings

Funny thing is, that even with all these protocols it’s still not that simple: We had a pitch the other day in which three client team members were in one place. And if you thought making sure you had the camera set-up properly for yourself was a challenge – let me assure you that squeezing three people into the same Teams frame on the same laptop is no easy feat! Fortunately, it became an unplanned moment of hilarity – but as we slowly drift back into the office, we have a whole new set of conundrums we’ll need to manage.

And as we all continue to stumble our way through these uncertain times, this will likely remain a hot and sensitive topic for many months to come. So let’s call it a work in progress and your additional thoughts and comments are welcome.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent 

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