Let’s start with a little case history about one agency that really needed to win.

 winning presentationThe best agencies in the city were invited to pitch. It was billed as “all creative,” a true creative shoot-out. The best creative would win. Supposedly. Though this is rarely the case. How can anyone tell what’s the best creative? Is it the most creative or the most effective? Who knows? In situations like these, the best presentation usually wins. But what makes a winning presentation?

We knew the other agencies would go in with a showy style, using PowerPoint or Prezi or some other high-tech glitzy prop. So we recommended going in with the 6-easel approach. It’s low-tech but high-touch and shows the agency’s team off to the best advantage. It’s showy and feels very “creative,” which we judged would be perfect for the prospect. It was.

The 6-easel approach dazzled the review panel, and the agency was judged the “most creative” because of the approach they took, not the materials they presented. Once again, it was a case where format and style won over content due to that all important emotional factor.

 Winning Presentation: Win an Oscar!

There are many rules on how to best win a presentation. And we’ve covered many secrets to winning over the years. But there is one secret to always winning– that all important emotional touch. Your presentation should be like that runaway Hollywood blockbuster film: filled with suspense, highs, lows, and a thrilling climax. You want to elicit an emotional response.

Hollywood has a bad habit of making epic movies filled with special effects, but often leaving the story behind. We all know the type of action films filled with huge explosions, sound and fury, but really nothing to say. Five minutes after leaving the theater, the story has been forgotten. Never allow technology to overwhelm your pitch.

Every agency review process gets confusing and crowded in the minds of the prospects. Each agency puts on a great show, selling themselves as the best, the smartest, the most creative, with all the right solutions. After a short time they all start to run together. Prospects have a hard time remembering one agency from another. Nothing can replace that emotional connection made between real people. Make sure your agency is an “Oscar Winner” and stands out from the crowd by connecting with prospects on an emotional level.

10 Rules for Connecting in a Pitch

  1. Set the Stage: Call and introduce yourself to the prospect. Demonstrate your excitement and enthusiasm for this opportunity. In a perfect world, you will already have established some level of relationship with the prospect. If not, set up a meeting. If procurement won’t let you, work your connections and discover as much as you can. Collect any fact, insight or opinion that can help set you apart on the big day. Build a map of how you think the decision will be made.
  2. Bring the Best Cast: You are not pitching to a company but to people. Work hard to profile the decision-makers. Make sure the casting of your team matches up with the prospect’s expectations – position, experience, age, gender, personality. Find opportunities to enhance the relationship, to connect before, during and after the presentation. Work your network.
  3. No One Man Shows: You want the audience to connect to your agency, not just you. The more any leader speaks, the weaker they are. The less they speak the more powerful they are. The leader should only open and close, in effect giving power to the rest of the team. This will showcase the team’s abilities and enhance their power in the mind of the prospect. You want the prospects to connect emotionally with your staff and the agency. If you don’t feel your team is capable, train them!
  4. Present Magic: Never forget the magic of Hollywood. Great films are filled with suspense, emotional highs, lows, and a thrilling climax. It’s vital to draw the prospect into your presentation, to connect with them. Leave the facts and figures in the leave-behind. Each team member should have a clear role. Who will be the hero in the eyes of the prospect? The chorus to support and move the story forward? Who is the evil witch you must overcome? The hero’s plucky sidekick? The catalyst? In the end you want the prospects to laugh out loud, bring tears to their eyes, to be engaged.
  5. Few Special Effects: Every single agency wants to look high tech, professional, smooth, so they work hard to build beautiful slides and videos – big special effects. These can help but should not be the focus of your presentation. Your people and the story must be the focus. It’s impossible for your people to connect emotionally if everyone in the room is looking at a flickering light. Go low tech. Use props, boards, handouts, actors if you must. We suggest you start with a short slide show to introduce the firm, 3-5 minutes on you and your case histories. Then bring the lights up and move into the “relationship/story” phase. The shift alone can be a powerful differentiator to separate you from all the other agencies in the hunt.
  6. Write Scripts: Every agency hates this. We hear it all the time. The old “I do much better when I’m fresh, spontaneous” excuse. Bull. Ask any movie star if they just “act” when the film is rolling with no preparation. No. They script it out, and work hard to get into the role. Only after hours of working with the script do they feel free enough to even start rehearsing. Your presentation is a blockbuster and everyone must be on the same page. The difference is startling when viewed from the prospect’s seat. Every agency hates this– until they do it once. Then they never go back. It’s that powerful.
  7. Rehearse Style: A winning presentation is worth a full day’s practice. Your team should be fully up to speed with their role, scripts, props, and only then can you really start to rehearse. We suggest going offsite (a hotel close to the prospect is preferred) where you can set up a fake presentation room. Set it up exactly like the room you will be presenting in (call and ask if you’re not sure what the room is like, send someone over to measure it if you must). Go through the whole presentation from moving into the room to setting up to the close and how you will exit. Practice each section. Do breakouts if you must. Short breaks and then back to the whole team. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse.
  8. Win in the Q&A: Most agencies think of the Q&A as secondary and leave it until the last minute. They feel it can’t be controlled or they’re already good enough. Wrong. We’ve seen winning presentations lose due to one fumbled answer. This is your chance to really connect with the prospect. Human-to-human. To help prepare, set up a team to generate tough questions and rehearse. Your team will really start to shine after a few rounds of being peppered with practice questions. Easy, tough and just plain odd questions make for the best practice. Learn how to listen respectfully and attentively to every question, and always clarify the question before you start to answer. The leader should field each question, and then direct one person to answer. Never re-answer a question. It’s one and done. Be confident.
  9. Strike at Your Peak: Winning presentations is all about the team. And just like an award winning cast, go in at your peak. After all the rehearsals, get a good night’s sleep and go into the meeting hungry. Make sure everyone’s outfit matches. Not like band uniforms but well coordinated. Have a producer to make sure everything has been handled. Use production assistants, grips, to take care of the small stuff. Your team should reflect energy back to whoever is narrating throughout each phase – never look down or bored. Understand your only job is to set the bar so high no other agency can come close. Shine.
  10. The Exit: You’ve done all this work, don’t forget that some people sit and wait through the rolling credits. Reward them, keep the movie rolling and have a little extra at the end. The movie isn’t over until you’re past the prospect’s curb. So many agencies finish up the presentation and relax. Bad move. Know how to close the presentation by leaving in a well organized, impressive way. While the grips pack up, your team should be relaxed, smiling, and chatting with any prospects that are still around: building chemistry. A small sign from the leader and the whole team should thank the prospects, shake hands and “parade” out. A bit of staged theater, but it works. Everyone laughing, pats on the back, a few pointed comments about how powerful that was, is great. Especially if there is another agency waiting in the halls. Anything you can do to take the wind out of their sails is just gravy.

There you go: 10 tips to help connect on a human level throughout your presentation. But the job isn’t over yet. Every agency knows to respond within 24 hours with a handwritten thank you note (Right?). But you should be able to do something a bit more. Be memorable. Pay attention to the prospect’s reactions and questions and find a way to re-connect your presentation story with a small gift. If no gifts are allowed, then make a more personal comment in your note. Stress the human-to-human connection you make in the presentation. Win. And be ready to accept your Oscar… be sure to have a script.

Every 12 or 15 months your agency will be face-to-face with a “defining moment,” a new business opportunity that, if won, has the power to redefine what your agency is because of the account’s size, scope, industry, or reputation. When this happens, call Sanders Consulting for immediate help and assistance to increase your agency’s chance of success.


Oscar Photo by Gnahraf