Power Essay – How to win pitches by Richard Hol

By Richard Hol, executive creative director, Nomads

An economic headwind is blowing across the Gulf, and agencies aren’t immune.

The expected industries, from cars to real estate, are struggling and marketing budgets are dwindling in the breeze. Some assignments are put on hold. Some vanish into the ether. There’s a trend to replace agency retainers with project partners. So, what’s the play?.
Clearly, we all have to work harder to win business. At Nomads, our offices are packed with highly dedicated, remarkably talented professionals, which I like to think gives us a decent edge. But is that all there is to it? Is that the only reason we’ve won Under Armour, Lenovo, Jotun, Dubai Properties, Majid Al Futtaim, Red Bull and others?

To get a better understanding of how Nomads wins pitches, I sat down and decoded all our winning submissions. The result is some interesting insights. No doubt, some are specific to us. They’re a result of our own particular creative culture and business priorities. For instance, no one has ever told us we won a pitch because we were the cheapest agency. And we’ve lost some pitches as well. But when we’re on fire, these principles all work together to produce the best possible result. A result that isn’t just winning, but winning with work we’re proud to produce.

There are things you can’t control in a pitch, like internal client politics, but here are a few things you certainly can. Hopefully you’ll take some inspiration from them. Because if one of us wins with great work, then we all win.
1. Commit
First, ask yourself if you want to take on the challenge. Do you have the resources and will to give it your all? Great effort requires excitement and commitment from
everyone involved.

2. Appoint leaders
Collaboration is great, but it’s meaningless without leaders to make concrete decisions. Determine who will lead strategy, creative and account. Make the number of decision makers as few as possible.

3. Invest money
Executing great pitch proposals takes money. Investing money (beyond hours) shows commitment to the team and to winning.

4. Organise yourself
Make a timeline counting back from the RFP submission date. Timelines can shift when the work isn’t satisfactory, but make sure you leave enough time to flesh out your ideas.

5. Network power
Sit down with the team/agency and identify valuable connections people might have. Tap into those resources, whether they be artists, mums or friends familiar with the client and industry.

6. Reframe the brief
Help organisations be the most ambitious version of themselves. Have a point of view on the brief, the brand, the product, the company or the audience that reveals opportunities the client didn’t even know existed.

7. Get a pitch strategy
You don’t just need the right strategic answer to a briefing; you also need your own strategy to win the pitch. Step outside the brief and ask yourself: What would impress this company more than anything? How do you show you truly understand them? That you are the most exciting partner for them? Add magic.

8. Be unexpected
The majority of the work entered by different agencies in a pitch is the same – and it looks just like your first ideas too. So don’t settle until you have developed work that is utterly original and that, 100 per cent guaranteed, will be unlike any other submission. Being right is not enough. You have to be right in a way no other agency is.

9. Add big value
Whatever it is that you develop, a client should feel that you unlock opportunities for them. Don’t be a vendor; be the partner they can’t wait to work with because you make them significantly stronger.

10. Get personal
If allowed, take every opportunity to meet with the client in person. Grow a bond that shows them you’re passionate about their business. Ask questions, surprise them with clever remarks, write emails, send messages. And use these interactions to get more steer for the work.

11. Incumbent?
Is having to pitch your own client bad news? No. It’s a chance to combine all your knowledge of them with the highest level of ambition possible. The kind of ambition you might have lost in the day-to-day relationship.

12. One route per brief
Unless it’s mandatory, don’t go in with multiple routes. Go in with one. And make that one route a proposal that’ll blow the client away with its exceptional thinking and craft.

13. Idea before deliverables
Spend your time developing a great idea. It’s way more important than that list of required deliverables. Better to submit one stellar idea than 100 mediocre executions.

14. Make stuff
Don’t just use Keynote. Craft things, make videos, print books, build furniture, spray-paint walls, compose music, sew outfits, 3D-print road signs to Mars. Be a maker, and not just of presentations.

15. Tell a story
Don’t be dull, be a storyteller. Craft the agency proposal into a compelling and memorable story. One that is entertaining and suspenseful.

16. Be simple
Clarity is king. Make brilliant thinking sound really simple. Your mum should understand the presentation and get excited about it. Be concise.

17. Have fun
Look at a pitch as a chance to be the most ambitious, creative version of your agency. Develop thinking that excites everyone who’s working on the pitch. Make it an opportunity for experimentation. You work days and nights on pitches, so make sure you spend them on things you enjoy.

18. Be charming
It’s not just about the work; it’s also about you. Be nice, be interested, be caring, be at ease, be funny. It’s about you and your team. Clients like to see a positive group dynamic. They want to like the work. They want to like you. They want to like how your team likes one another.

19. Don’t fear losing
Fear failing to make work that is utterly brilliant and bold. Fear failing to make work that unlocks opportunities for the client. Fear failing to be the most memorable agency in the pitch.

20. Good luck!
Because, of course, however good your pitch submission, you’ll need a bit to win.