Originally written for Creative Review

My name’s Gemma and I’m a hypocrite. The thing is, I hate pitches – they cost us money, they redirect our concentration away from our clients and they force us to waste great ideas – but last year my studio took part in one. And we won it

My name’s Gemma and I’m a hypocrite. The thing is, I hate pitches – they cost us money, they redirect our concentration away from our clients and they force us to waste great ideas – but last year my studio took part in one. And we won it…

I hate pitches because the entire spectrum of pitching, everything from “pop in for a chat and perhaps come up with a few ideas” right over to “deliver your complete campaign and timeline” hurts our industry.

Time and again we’re invited to swap our most valuable commodity (ideas) for an opportunity that, more often than not (in our case at least), disappears the moment we reach out for it.

However, when it boils down to it, I hate pitches because we – here at Well Made – are rubbish at pitching. Perhaps if we actually won the odd pitch I’d feel differently, but we don’t, so I can’t.

Thing is, I’m a realist. I’ve got business to develop. And if this is the way new work is going to be presented to us, then we have to take a punt, we’ve got to at least try.

Sadly, this isn’t the message we’re presenting to the outside world. We take a lot of pride in being honest not just with our clients, but with our peers (and our competition). Basically, our blog screams “don’t pitch, morons” while I’m out there doing the exact opposite.

So, we did a pitch.

Admittedly, our first for eights months but still a pitch. This was no ordinary ‘couple of ideas’ pitch. It was a full creative, fully formed campaign kind of pitch. A four days and two nights kind of pitch. A two thirds of your workforce kind of pitch. A biggie.

It was unpaid and probably the largest pitch we’ve worked on for a long time. On one occasion we did ask for a nominal fee from a very large brand who invited us to pitch. They turned us down deeming it unfair to the other participants. In the ten years we’ve worked as a threesome, that’s the only time money has ever been mentioned in the same breath as a pitch brief.

So why do it? I present to you our Pitch Funnel. This is our mechansm for working out whether to pitch or not.

Simply answer the following questions:

1. Did you beg the client to be added to their pitch list? Minus 3 points

2. Did they invite you? Add 1 point

3. If they invited you, did they discover you via the press? Add 1 point

4. If they invited you, were you recommended by a friend or colleague? Add 3 points

5. Have you worked in this industry before? Add 1 point

6. Have you done similar work before? Add 1 point

7. Do you have an opportunity to meet face-to-face prior to the pitch? Add 1 point

8. Can you deliver the pitch in person? Add 1 point

9. Are you pitching against more than four other companies? Minus 1 point

10. Are you pitching against less than two other companies? Add 1 point

11. Do you actually have a good idea? Add 1 point

If you score 7 or above, it’s probably worth pitching

Some further thoughts. Experience tells me that begging to be added to the pitch list immediately puts you on the back foot. The client doesn’t want you. If they did, you’d be on the list.

An invitation is important. They want you. If you’re good enough to be invited, you’re good enough to expect a couple of concessions. Now is the time to start requesting preliminary meetings and details of who else you’re pitching against. The client may say no, but you’re pitching, which is essentially an exercise in hearing no.

Being known is even better than being invited. The client has some idea of what you’re about. They’ve followed your career, seen a bit of what you’ve done and are already picturing their face on your portfolio. Now is the time to ask if there’s any budget for your time, or to schedule in some additional phone conversations with the decision makers.

Requesting a meeting prior to the pitch is your time to shine. It’s the moment when you start pulling out all the client management stops. Listen to them. Listen through what they say, try to work out if there’s a subtext, some unspoken challenge you can accommodate and even solve.

Ask around every aspect of their business goals, look for signs of tension and frustration – these are the problems you need to be fixing. Ask about the scoring and decision-making process and about how this project fits into their wider plans.

Based on our Pitch Funnel questions above, we scored an “8” for this particular pitch, meaning we went for it.

The client being based in Europe scuppered any chances of us getting preliminary meeting, however they were introduced to us via a close personal acquaintance so, in this particular case, that wasn’t too much of an issue.

We went for this pitch because the client knew us, because we’ve done this exact kind of work before, and we have plenty of experience in the industry. We were only pitching against one other company and our idea was strong.

The client knew our work but also had a glowing reference from someone they respected. Considering how wildly off the mark we were with the idea, I’d say that the ‘mate factor’ was probably the thing that tipped it in our favour.

Hindsight is great because last week, while I was waiting for a decision, I had no confidence in the work. The last ten years has rewired my approach to pitching. These days, I deliver and dash, immediately erasing all memory of the pitch. It’s far less traumatic that dwelling on someone else’s decision-making process, something I have no control over.

Getting the go ahead from this particular brand – our biggest to date – was actually quite a shock. I’d like to think that considering the numbers before we jumped in was a great way of helping us to get a grasp on what we were doing.

I know this industry is a killer for its curveballs – and the Pitch Funnel will always be a work in progress – but if we can’t learn a thing or two from a decade-long 99% pitch fail rate then, sadly, nobody can.