(Online) Pitch etiquette for clients and agencies

Before Covid struck, I wrote an article entitled ‘pitch etiquette for clients and agencies‘. Because everyone’s now found themselves pitching online, I thought an update would be helpful. So here goes…

No matter which side of the computer screen you’re on during an agency pitch process, there are some basic rules everyone should follow to show courtesy, respect and good corporate manners.

At the end of the day, both sides should recognize the effort that’s been put in to the presentation that’s being made and indeed the complexities of conducting a fair, transparent pitch with multiple stakeholders and agency participants.

So wherever you’re at in your current online or prospective pitch process, here are some fundamental courtesies everyone should extend:

Agencies

Keep your cameras on

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. Turning your camera off is the same as leaving the room – if you’re not visible, you’re not there. And if you’re not there, chances are the client to whom you’re pitching is going to think you’re either not interested, or you’re not an invaluable member of the team they’re trying to evaluate. Keep your camera on!

Mute your microphone when you’re not presenting

When pitching online, it’s good to be prepared for the unexpected. Doorbells ring. Mysterious noises appear elsewhere in your home. Dogs bark and children interrupt. And while everyone is typically understanding when the unexpected happens – mitigating unexpected noises can be as simple as muting your microphone when you’re not presenting. Just remember to turn it on again if you’re answering a question(!)

Talk to everyone on your screen

Introductions are done and you’ve figured out who are the really senior players on your screen. But talking only to those individuals who you think are important, is not only rude, it’s a potentially fatal mistake.  Agencies frequently underestimate the influence of manager level participants as they’re generally the ones who have to manage the relationship day-to-day. So please – talk to everyone – not just those who you think are most influential.

Names can pack a punch

Whether you realize it or not, in-person presentations are naturally made easier by being able to watch body language. Because that’s harder online (and impossible if cameras are off…), calling-out someone’s name – or a group of names – can help engage a particular segment of your audience – either during a specific section of your presentation or when asking or answering questions.

Keep to time

Most – if not all – pitches have a defined time limit for each agency presentation and everyone on your team should be mindful of time allocated.  As you watch the clock, build in time for questions – take time to allow questions that can clear something up there and then, can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing.

Make presentations readable

Cramming lots of words onto a single slide or preparing your presentation in small type is, well… shortsighted.  That’s bad enough if you’re in a room presenting live, but it can be even worse when you’re presenting online. Not only are laptop screens comparatively small, but participant faces are also likely occupying valuable real estate. And if your audience hasn’t maximized window their own size (sad but I suspect often true), then you can see just how important readable slides matter.

Stick to the rules

Generally speaking, pitch requests come with some form of guidelines or terms and conditions that marketers ask agencies to adhere to.  Those terms have been thought through and included for good reason – to keep the evaluation process fair, to work within internal guidelines and  / or work within best practices. Breaking those guidelines or terms sends the message your agency doesn’t take direction well and is disrespectful.

Clients

Chit-chat is important

Humans are naturally social creatures and just because we’re all working online these days, doesn’t make us any less so. By allowing for five minutes chit-chat up-front can help form the basis for a stronger chemistry foundation, relax everyone in the room and help set the tone for the way the agencies will want to engage with you.

Keep focused

Pulling a pitch presentation together takes real effort, dedication and coordination and you’ll find most agencies have been up late the night before rehearsing what they’re going to show you. Visibly checking email, disappearing or chatting with your dog / cat during presentations can be distracting and diminishes effort and hard work agencies put into the process.

Keep your cameras on

Just because you’re not presenting, doesn’t mean agencies don’t want to see you. Quite the reverse. They’ll want to watch your reactions and eke out as much body language as they can which can help them adjust presentation content, speed-up or pause to ask for questions. So please, help those pitching by remaining on camera and by being present.

Allow for a break

One of the biggest issues we’ve discovered during pitches is ‘presentation fatigue‘. Staring at a computer screen for two hours can be more exhausting (and difficult) than being on your feet presenting for the same amount of time. And because people still need to grab a glass of water or run to the washroom, building in a ten minute break for agencies can make a presentation that much easier for everyone.

Treat everyone equally

Whether or not you choose to answer specific questions, provide strategic or creative direction, it’s important to treat all agencies fairly and equally. If you’re providing information or additional support to one agency – you must do it for all.

Be transparent

Transparency is always your best policy. Let agencies know how they’re being evaluated and what your next steps are in the process once they’ve presented. Take time to answer questions and give feedback.

Provide constructive feedback

Given the hard work and effort that’s gone into agency presentations, constructive feedback after the pitch is completed is always welcome.  I’ve personally never come across an agency that hasn’t welcomed feedback, so a little time and effort to acknowledge their efforts in the process, and summarize their strengths and weaknesses, shows you recognize their hard work and will help them in future.

Whether you’re an agency or a marketer, following some basic rules of pitch etiquette can help ease pressures, tensions and uncertainties during any pitch process. 

So just as you take time to prepare your request for an agency search, or create a compelling presentation for a potential client, take time to think about how your brand can extend to online pitch etiquette during a search process.

Little effort. A small amount of time. No cost. And just the right thing to do.

STEPHAN ARGENT

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

Photo: finedining indian

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