The weirdness of remote pitching

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 4 June 2020

Pitches by agencies seeking major new clients are continuing in lockdown but for many the process of doing this remotely or virtually has been an unsettling experience, a jarring switch from three dimensions to two.

Those used to walking in a room, adjusting content and style to match the body language and expressions of the prospective client, quickly came up short. 

How do you read a room via an internet video conference? The answer: You can’t. And that’s the thing, the game has changed. Old skills are out and new are in.

Stripped from the speaker are the physical tricks of how to stand, project voice, point, smile, frown, all helping to radiate empathy, create a human-to-human connection.

Erik Hallander, CEO in Australia of digital agency Isobar, says it's difficult over camera to read how people are reacting.

“You miss so many little subtle cues,” he says. “It’s more prescriptive. It’s less fluid than sitting around a table and having a chat or going down and having a bite to eat.

“So it's just more challenging to keep people engaged for longer. You have to be way more concise, straight to the point.”

Establishing that warmth between people is still possible but it requires more investment in time.

But benefits are hidden in remote pitching, including the prospect of shorter meetings.

“When two groups come together and one of them presents the other, no matter how friendly you are, it always comes across a little bit as one versus the other. Not in a hostile way, it’s just two different groups coming together,” says Hallander.

“But when you join the call with eight or ten people sitting in makeshift offices or living rooms or whatever, it feels more like one group.

“When you hear a politician speak sometimes, they put on a media persona that no one likes to listen to. There’s less of that in the calls. People are just themselves more, and I think that just leads to better outcomes.”

The Pitches

Pitch doctor Greg Graham says he’s aware of multiple major pitches in Sydney and Melbourne.

“My market intelligence is, however, that they are having various degrees of success,” he says.

“Most underestimate the prep/rehearsal times and are forgetting some of the new business pitch basics and standard Zoom best practices.”

Graham says the benefit of remote pitching is that the process and meetings may be simplified with more focus on the quality of the work and less on staging.

“Substance over pitch theatre with the strategy and ideas to grow the client's business in this new world is the major element,” he says.

“The downside in a virtual pitch is the engagement, interactivity and human factors may be diminished.

“Plus it's challenging to bring to life the agency's brand, personality, and culture. However, I believe it's more important than ever to effectively communicate these vital ingredients.”

Graham is a big advocate for chemistry, energy, impact, and showcasing the best talent with the best work in presentations.

“I think if you have the right people and have done the hard yards and rehearsed this is easier to demonstrate face-to-face,” he says.

“You can't beat human connection and great work presented with real passion and commitment face-to-face.”

Activity is down

Graham Webster, CEO of independent pitch consultants Enth Degree, says pitching remotely is a strange experience and is a great reminder of how inept most are with technology.

“The number of pitches in the market is down for us, and we hear the same of our competitors,” he says.

“However, the world is still turning and a number of marketers are laying the foundations for the pitch process.”

He points to the 1989 strike by pilots which shut air travel in Australia.

“Suddenly we had to communicate remotely, no Zoom or (Microsoft) Teams of course,” he says. “Even Skype was about five years away.

“Interstate business was done through phone and fax, unless of course you were ahead of the curve and had reliable video-conferencing facilities.

“We learnt to cope, we predicted that interstate business travel was doomed. How wrong we were.

“Similarly, pitching will revert to face-to-face when social distancing is in the not too distant past.”

Business protocols still apply

Webster says remote pitching demands discipline from both agencies and marketers.

“The Zoom conference strips us bare,” he says. “It makes us two dimensional.”

While presentation skills trainers say “it's 70% how you say it, and 30% what you say”, the Zoom pitch flips this.

“It is clearly harder to engage when you are pixelated, so Zoom conferencing levels the field by stripping back the ‘Hollywood’ element of presentations,” he says.

“Never has the presentation of ‘the work’ been more critical and this is not necessarily a bad thing.”

Webster believes the process shouldn’t be any shorter but remote pitching has possibly put more rigour into the process.

“The fact that we are distanced has reduced time spent on briefing and chemistry and/or tissue sessions – but these can still proceed online,” he says.

“While these are a critical component of any pitch, there is a temptation for agencies to engage with the client as frequently as possible.

“While this does ensure a closer engagement, it can often be more about selling than ‘the work’. So while not shorter, it can be more time efficient.”

Webster is working on a couple of pitches that are subject to a shorter process than is traditional, but this is driven by market necessity not pitching technology.

But pitching is never easy. They might feel more relaxed but business protocols still apply.

“Some of those presenting seem to have forgotten that this is the culmination of a stack of long hours from a big back up team.

“Would you really wear that baseball cap to a client meeting? Do you normally hide a bowl of food and sneak mouthfuls in the clients’ boardroom?”


Greg Graham:

Don't take shortcuts and underestimate the time and effort needed to pitch virtually. The rules of engagement are just as important and make sure you nail the substance in a simple and compelling way.

Moderating and navigating the agenda for a Zoom meeting is paramount. It's more challenging than in-person and keeping your audience engaged with your story and why they should appoint your agency is vital to your success!

Graham Webster:
Pitching via a camera requires new skills. Basic skills are overlooked by many. 

Are you visually presenting yourself professionally?

  • How’s your camera position?
  • Are you backlit and looking to the rest of the group like you are in a witness protection programme?
  • Do you really need those headphones that look like they belong to an air traffic controller?
  • What’s in the background? If you are working from the laundry, at least move the washing basket and try not to have people walking in and out behind you.

Look like an Agency Team

  • How a bout a common backdrop, like the agency logo?
  • Rehearse. It’s a new way of working. Make sure it works for you
  • Know who is presenting next.
  • Use one deck. Swapping PowerPoint decks between presenters looks sloppy
  • Make sure you can present all media from your one presentation. Swapping from medium to another kills the moment
  • Can the audience read those charts with all the graphs on their 12 inch screen?
  • When it is your turn to talk, turn your mic on! Try and ensure that video works given wifi limitations.

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