Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tips for Nervous Presenters

The following is a blog written by my partner Pam who is fantastic at working with nervous presenters.

She will be adding different tips with each new blog entry.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How many people should attend a pitch?

A recent blog question posed to me was how many people should attend a pitch. Based on the question, I am assuming it came from a small to mid-sized agency and the piece of business in questions is not a huge, multi-national assignment with multiple partners. For typical pitches facing small to mid-sized agencies, there are a few general guidelines that I tend to recommend when considering the size of the pitch team.
First, do not overwhelm the client. If there only going to be two or three people representing the client side, do everything that you can in order to keep your pitch team as small as possible. This does not mean that you need to bring only two or three people, but it does mean that you should not bring 10 people.
Second, everyone on the agency team gets a speaking part. Bringing a junior person that does not have a speaking role so that the client can “meet the team” does not count. Clients want to get to know the person and see if they are a good fit, not simply put a name to a face. If you send a person to the pitch but do not give that person a speaking part, the client can get the impression that you do not trust junior staff. The advantage of letting a junior person have a role in the presentation is that the bar is set lower for the day-to-day person. You may find that with a lower bar, the day-to-day person will sail over it and wow the client.
Third, it is good to bring at least one day-to-day person. Clients can only assume the worst if the agency is not willing to bring any day-to-day staff to a meeting. This is not to suggest loading up the entire team with more junior staff, but bringing a day-to-day account or creative person is probably a good idea.
Given those three guidelines, there are seven key roles to be played on a typical pitch team.
The role of the executive – a CEO, president, managing director, etc. – is to open and close the meeting and discuss the agency. He or she should not talk about the specifics of the client’s work unless the executive is going to be working on the account. Another role of the executive in the room is to field questions and distribute them to the team. If the executive answers every question it can appear that the team isn’t trusted to answer the questions. Artfully moving the questions to the appropriate team member can help to promote team chemistry.
The planner/high level account person will talk about strategy. Depending on the resources of the agency, this could be a planner, director of account services, or a high level account person.
The day-to-day account person is not necessarily 100% assigned to the account. This person is simply the primary point of contact for the client, usually somewhere between 50% and 100% billable. This person will typically discuss tactical executions and how the strategy will be implemented.
It is great if everyone can speak to digital, but typically this requires special expertise. The advantage of bring the digital person is that you have that extra level of expertise. The disadvantage is that digital can look like a separate department instead of one, unified creative team.
Creative staff is typically one high level and one day-to-day staffer. The higher level creative staff can outline the challenges that the creative assignment presented and set up the first concept. The day-to-day creative can then present some concepts. It is a good idea to have the creative director come back and summarize all of the different concepts that were shown.
Some pitches do not include Media, but even then it is still useful to have someone that can serve as the bridge between the agency and the media buying firm. The absence of this role can leave some gaps in the pitch. We have all seen the role of media change over the last five or so year. Media truly is the new creative. With that new role, comes new responsibilities. In the old days, the media section was what done when everyone else was finished with their presentation. Now, the media section may be asked to carry a pitch. Presentation and storytelling skills which were never stressed in a media department are now very important and can make or break pitch.
The pitch is the client’s opportunity to get to know everyone on the team, so remember to give everyone a substantive role. This does not mean that the role needs to be complex. It does mean that each presenter needs to have enough time to connect with the audience and enough time to establish him or herself as an important member of the team. While team size is probably not going to make your team win or lose the pitch, team chemistry can, and the larger the team, the more difficult it is to show chemistry.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Monday, September 27, 2010

Differentiation vs. Betterentiation

If the goal is to differentiate ourselves from the competition, then why do agencies spend so much time just telling their clients and prospects how much better they are than the competition? The difficulty with focusing on what you do better than the competition is that the agency can rarely back up its claims. As a result, it just sounds like sales puffery that clients politely listen to and completely ignore.
After years of effort, agencies are now selling themselves as “full-service” and “integrated.” However, what they are basically saying is that we all do the same thing. The result of all of our effort is that we have created non-differentiated agencies and commoditized our product offering. When clients have a difficult time distinguishing one agency from another, there’s just one thing they use as a differentiator: price. This is not the situation any agency wants to be in, but it is where many agencies find themselves right now.
The key to a point of differentiation is that it is provable. Saying you’re better is mostly just stating an opinion. Differentiation always has a point of proof.
“Our creative is better” is an opinion. Your agency’s creative may in fact be better, but unless you have a shelf full of awards, you have no proof. And recognize that every agency has won a creative award or two, so unless you have a shelf full of awards, your claim is just your opinion and will not resonate with your prospects.
“Our agency has better experience than any agency in the business when it comes to biologics” is an opinion. Nearly every agency has biologic experience. “Our agency is agency of record for more biologics than any other pharma agency” is a fact.
The problem is that simply claiming to be better is easier, and as a result more agencies go down that path. It is easier to simply claim to be better than to go through the difficult work of actually making the agency different in some way. The question for agencies is, what is it that you can own in the marketplace? Odds are it is not about what you do better. These types of claims have difficulty gaining traction. It is more likely a controversial point of view or a method for executing some part of the advertising process that will help to put some distance between you and the competition.
One most popular differentiating claim is that an agency’s people make them different. While it is wonderful for morale, it probably is not true. If you are based in the New York area, those people that you claim make you so different probably worked for your competitor just one or two years ago. You could claim that your culture makes you different, but you would need to point out the specifics of the culture before the claim had much of a chance of sticking.
As if this were not difficult enough, the next danger is giving something a name and claiming it is different only to have the client say, “I have seen that before.” An agency’s branding process typically falls into this category. Having seen hundreds of agency new business pitches, both pharma and consumer, I know that if your agency has a process that includes concentric circles, a pyramid, or some kind of structure with columns supporting a roof … it is not unique or differentiating. Just because you have a pithy name for the process does not mean that the underlying process is different. It just means that the name is different.
So where does that leave an agency? There are still plenty of ways to carve out your own niche in the marketplace. One way is do primary research and uncover a hidden insight about the market. This is probably the oldest PR trick in the book. In the absence of news, make your own news. You can than build upon this research to become the defacto expert on the topic.
Another strategy would be to develop a unique point of view about the role of the agency, the role of promotion, or the direction of the industry. Anything that gives you a platform to discuss your topic as an industry leader and not just another agency in a sea of similar agencies could work.
While none of the solutions to the conundrum are quick or easy, the value of being different is immeasurable. It may seem silly to preach the value of differentiation to an agency, but sometimes we all need to listen to our own advice.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pitch swag

I was involved in a pitch recently where one agency was criticized for not giving the client a goody bag. Mind you, the client did not put it in so many words, but the message was loud and clear.

The agency did provide the presentation on a memory stick, as well as 10 bound leave behinds (as required by the client)...just no gift bags.

What are your thoughts? Have you heard this kind of feedback before? If you are a client...what do you think of the goody bag? Is it a pitch necessity or a lame pitch bribe?

I am interested to see everyone's feedback.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch consultant

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stop talking about rehearsing

During the pitch process, every agency gives lip service to rehearsal. They plan for rehearsal time and schedule a conference room, but how much time is actually spent rehearsing? Odds are people would rather talk about rehearsing than actually rehearse.
We have all been in sessions where it took half a day or even all day to get through a 90-minute pitch deck. There is a great deal of spirited discussion as to the content on slide 37 and whether the strategy is well articulated in the strategy section. In addition, everyone is happy to report that they spent a full day rehearsing when, in fact, they spent 90 minutes rehearsing and about seven hours talking about rehearsing.
Discussing the content, removing slides, wordsmithing, etc. are all important parts of the pitch process; they are just not rehearsal. Once the presentation deck is tight and the discussion of content is over, this is when rehearsal starts. Rehearsal is the part of the process where presenters become so familiar with their content that they can start to concentrate on other issues. For example, connecting with the audience.
Agencies get so wrapped up in the content that they frequently forget that the audience is a group of living, breathing human beings who want to be conversed with, not simply presented to. When pitches work well, agencies often hear that there was good chemistry. If chemistry is such an important part of winning pitches, doesn’t it make sense to at least make some effort to enhance the chemistry in the room?
Chemistry happens when the presenters make an effort to connect with the audience. The presenters need to be more than just automatons, getting up and delivering their slides. They need to be personable and charming. In essence, presenters need to give the impression that they would be a pleasure to work with. The more conversational tone the presenter has, the more chemistry they will be building.
This kind of tone is natural for a precious few presenters, but for others, it only comes when they are no longer nervous about forgetting their part. It is rare that an agency hears that their strategy or creative was bad, but it is not uncommon to hear that the chemistry was bad.
Think about the acting world. Actors have read-throughs where the actors sit at a table and read their parts. This is not the time to practice the physical part of acting. This is the time just to get comfortable with the lines and what comes before and after the actor’s part, much like the first read-through of a pitch deck. After the first read-through, the actor goes home and practices. The next step is to get up and rehearse. Here the actor rehearses both the words and the delivery. Finally, we are ready for a dress rehearsal. The actors go through the entire performance without stopping, without discussion. Actors are smart enough to know that the first time they get through their performance without stopping should not be on opening night. Agencies can benefit from the same rigors when it comes to rehearsal.
The question is how to allocate time when the timeline to get a pitch ready is so compressed. Typically, agencies work forward from the day the pitch process starts, and rehearsal time is whatever is left over after the team is done talking about the deck. Winning agencies work backwards from the day of the pitch. Those agencies know exactly how many rehearsals they need in order to have their best chance of winning. Typically, it is a relatively low number of rehearsals. Four or five usually do the trick. Winning agencies also do not rely on working until midnight the day before the pitch. They finish at a reasonable hour and get some rest. This way if they need the extra time, they have it.
Agencies in the consumer world suffer from the same short pitch timelines, but they still manage to dedicate significant time to rehearsal. You can bet that when the Martin Agency won Geico and NASCAR, they didn’t decide to wing it on pitch day. That team was rehearsed and ready to go when they arrived at the client to give their presentation. If rehearsing helps to win at the big consumer shops, then it can clearly help give agencies the winning edge in the pharma world.
If your agency is not winning at least 40% of its pitches or if you’re hearing that the chemistry is not right, perhaps now is the time to rethink the pitch process and dedicate a bit more time and discipline to rehearsal.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Simple Rules for Q and A Mastery

It is virtually impossible to win a pitch with the Q&A session, but it is fairly easy to lose the pitch.

Agencies seem to feel that the Q&A session that follows the new business pitch is there to promote the free exchange of ideas. After 90 minutes of a finely crafted presentation, where the agency has scripted every word, every interjection and slide, the question and answer session is more of a test than it is a conversation. The client is using their precious 30 minutes of Q&A to kick the proverbial tires of the agency. Is everyone on the same page? Do they get along? Will the agency be easy to work with? Will the client need to suffer through an agency’s internal squabbles? These are the questions that the client is trying to answer when they ask, “Which concept would you recommend?”

So the question becomes, what is the agency doing that is getting them closer to a win during the Q&A? And what is the agency doing that is potentially losing the business?

When you start to look at Q&A as a conversation versus a test, certain behaviors become either positive or negative. For example, when you look at it as a conversation, team members discussing an issue makes perfect sense. When you look at it as a test, when one team member adds to another team member’s answers, it gives one of two possible impressions. First, that the team members are not on the same page. While this is bad, it is not nearly as bad as the second impression, which is that the person that adds on to the answer does not trust their teammate. This can be deadly. The client wants to know that not only are you all on the same page, but that you all trust each other. Other poor impressions that can result from someone adding on to an answer – the client may feel like the person just has a need to talk. We all know people like this.

There are two things you can do to combat the add-on. Train your staff to answer the question and then ask, “Does that answer your question?” If it does answer the question, most people would consider the case closed and would move on. If it does not answer the question, the answerer is now free to look for some help from your team. Asking for help is much more charming and intelligent than having five team members jump in for the save.

A second thing to consider during Q&A is to keep the answers short. The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something that you don’t want to say. Also, longer answers tend to make the presenter sound defensive. Keep the answers to 60 seconds or less. Closer to 30 seconds would be better. Don’t tell the client how to build a watch when all they asked for was the time. Another reason to keep answers short is that the goal is to get through as many questions as possible. It would be a waste of time to spend five minutes or more answering a question that was asked by someone that does not get a vote.

A third rule of thumb for Q&A is to not let any one person dominate. When one person answers the bulk of the questions it can give a number of non-favorable impressions. The first is that the agency has one smart person and a bunch of less smart staff members. Another impression is that the person answering all of the questions does not trust their team members. Remember, these are the same team members that are about to be assigned 100% to this account. Clients do not necessarily expect that their day to day staff will know all of the answers, but they do expect that staff to have the trust of agency executives. The goal is to get the pitch team involved and not let any one person dominate.

Finally, leave time for Q&A. The fact of the matter is that sometimes presentations run long. The danger is that if the agency leaves no time for Q&A, the agency is not so subtly saying to the client, “Your thoughts and questions are not important to us. It is more important for us to talk than it is for us to listen.” This is not the message that an agency wants to send to a perspective client.
The rules are not complicated, but they do require discipline. As much as I preach the “no add-on” rule, agency staff can find it difficult to hold their tongues on pitch day. As difficult as it may be, stick to the rules, and the pitch will be better for it.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant
Filament Inc.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is business picking up?

Back in November, I noticed that business was picking up significantly in the second half of '09. We have noticed a big surge in pitch activity and training, even when compared to the last half of '09.

An increase in training is a terrific sign for our industry. Training tends to be a good indicator of the health of an organization or industry since training budgets are the first to get cut when times are bad. I am not suggesting that the industry is experiencing a boom time, but it is a good sign.

What are you noticing regarding business activity?

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Filament Inc.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Let junior staff speak

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.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant
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