Most ad executives I speak with agree that bringing junior staff to a pitch is a good idea. After all, the day-to-day employees are going to be doing the work, and clients are likely to expect to meet the team. And bringing junior staff to pitches – with small roles – is a great way to develop the next generation of pitch superstars. With all of this going in their favor, I would expect to see pitch teams overrun with junior staff. But that is not the case.
Most ad executives I speak with agree that bringing junior staff to a pitch is a good idea. After all, the day-to-day employees are going to be doing the work, and clients are likely to expect to meet the team. And bringing junior staff to pitches – with small roles – is a great way to develop the next generation of pitch superstars. With all of this going in their favor, I would expect to see pitch teams overrun with junior staff. But that is not the case. Most of the resistance seems to boil down to two issues: presentation skill and knowledge.
When it comes to presentation skill, management is simply concerned that a junior person will lay an egg and lose the pitch. But in reality, it is virtually impossible for a junior person to lose a pitch. First of all, the bar is much lower for them. The client does not expect them to be perfectly polished. Second, if the junior person flubs but the rest of the team is great, the client will simply ask that individual not to be assigned to the account. On the other hand, if the junior person does a stellar job, now the client thinks that everyone at the agency is as smart as the junior person.
A bigger issue around presentation skill has to do with senior staff as opposed to junior staff. My suggestion is that agencies scrutinize all of their presenters, not just the junior ones. Poor senior level presenters do not get the same latitude as their junior colleagues and may cause much more harm to the chances of winning. Over time, a client may recognize the genius of an individual who is not a great presenter, but in a pitch, the client does not have the time or inclination to recognize that genius. They just see an inarticulate senior staff member.
When it comes to knowledge, not bringing junior staff because they do not know as much as the senior staff seems a little foolish. No client expects the day-to-day account/creative person to have the same expertise and insight as the VP of account services or the creative director. Clients expect the day-to-day staff to be smart and easy to work with and to know where to go when they don’t have an answer. They do not expect them to have all of the answers.
There are few keys to insuring that junior staff does a great job in a new business pitch. First, define their role. This means making sure that they use words like day to day when they describe their role on the account in order to set the bar that they need to clear. The client sets the bar lower for day-to-day staff than they do for the VP of account services.
Second, give them appropriate content to deliver. Clients expect to hear industry analysis and/or tactics from day-to-day account people. They do not want the 26-year old account executive to be developing and delivering the strategy for the product. The other half of appropriate content is giving the presenter enough content to deliver. If the account executive only has 90 seconds worth of content to deliver, he or she is not giving the audience enough time to get to know the presenter. But once an audience establishes an opinion on a presenter, there is no benefit in having the presenter continue. It takes about five minutes for an audience to get a good read on a presenter.
Finally, don’t change the content at the last minute. Junior staff members are probably petrified of the new business process. For many of them, they will be presenting with the president or managing director for the first time. Changing their content at the last minute could very well send them into a tailspin. Give them a day or two to really own their content.
Remember, the bar is lower for day-to-day staff. No one expects them to be as polished as the executives at the agency. Use that lower bar to your advantage and let the lower level staff show the client how smart everyone is at your agency.