If you’re in the agency business, you quickly learn you have to be good at pitching, i.e. presenting for new business.

learn how to win new business pitch

Successful pitching is neither art nor science… it’s both.

If you’re going to really grow your firm, you have to be especially good at presenting to win large accounts in what we call a “formal review” or the Pitch You Have To Win.

The Pitch You Have To Win!

You know the review I’m talking about. It’s where the prospect has selected a number of agencies to present for their business. It usually starts with a “cattle call” for lots of agencies. Then this mob is whittled down into the “consideration set,” requiring jumping through some additional hoops at an intermediate stage in the selection process. And finally you get to the “presentation set:” those agencies chosen to finally present for the business.

Prospects love these formal reviews because they get all this advice and creative work – most of the time for free. And a group of very smart agency people are all lined up to tell them all about their markets, their business, their competition, and offer thoughtful recommendations on what they should be doing with their business. What’s not to like?

But on the agency side? Well, it’s a different story. Long hours, lots of pressure, changes made at the last minute. Presentation books to prepare and print. Lots of tension and patience is in short supply. You have probably been there before, so you know full well what I mean.

The agencies have to spend a lot of time and money on these formal pitches, knowing there will be only one winner and nothing for the agencies that lose (except maybe, and I really mean maybe, a thank you note from the prospect). But most times agencies hear nothing back after putting in all this effort. And the message is brutal: “Sorry guys, we’re going with someone else.” And the unstated message agencies hear is: “We’re going with someone we like a lot better than you. We’re going with someone who is so much better than you.” It’s crushing on agency spirit. And if the losses mount up, it kills an agency’s self image, an agency’s confidence.

Make your presentations pay off by winning more formal reviews. I mean win three, four or five presentations in a row (we recently had a streak of winning 26 pitches in a row). And many of our agency-clients win at this success rate. Then the effort you put into formal presentations isn’t a lost expense but an investment because your firm is winning more than its fair share.

A Defining Moment.

Here’s how the process starts. First you need to get what we call a “Defining Moment.” That’s a big opportunity that will basically redefine who your firm is if you win the account. The win will reshape who your firm is because of the account’s size, its budget, the type of business it is, their reputation, their category, and their impact in the market place. All these can redefine an agency if they win such an account.

Getting a chunk of the Apple business is a defining moment for many national agencies. A nice bank can define a local agency. Winning a consumer product can reshape a B2B agency. Winning a nice technology account can redefine a retail agency. And moving into consumer advertising can redefine an internet agency. You get what I mean.

You want to look for a “Defining Moment” to win: a presentation that will have a big impact on your agency. You might have one right now on your hands. If you do, then this information will really help you.

Ad Agency Pitch Elements.

Understand that any pitch you make will be made up of four elements – Style, Format, Content, and Chemistry.


Prospects have a very different view of your presentation than you do.

Prospects have a very different view of your presentation than you do.


And most agencies mishandle these four elements completely by putting all their time and energy into Content, the least important part of the four. They practically ignore the power and account-winning pull of getting Style and Format right. And they spend NO time on thinking about how to win with Chemistry.


Style is how you present. How you own the room. What techniques you use to present. Are you locked into PowerPoint, which puts most prospects to sleep? Do you have walk-in music? Do you put out agendas? Do you bring in coffee and refreshments? Do you have a welcome video? Has your CEO learned to charm a room with a simple story from his childhood that he tells to set the stage? Are you using California Boards that make an impact in a room? Do you use reveals? Do you tantalize? In other words are you set to make your presentation a show?

Remember this is a fun school trip for prospects, and they want to be entertained. They want to fall in love with an agency. They want to be dazzled. They want to laugh and to enjoy the process. They don’t want to be bored. And they don’t want to be talked down to – talking down to a client means you know their business more than they do. That’s insulting. The agency’s role at this stage should be to offer the prospect something they want and need. So you have to get Style right and make a show by the smoothness of your presentation, your professional look, and the impact you create.


The second element is Format. And that’s the structure and organization of your pitch and how you organize things. Basically, what format do you follow? For example, do you lead with a creative to grab their attention? Do you change the brief in some dramatic way? How do you structure what you present? Do you let one person dominate your presentation (which rarely works)? What’s your casting and do your people show well? How are they dressed? Do they look like dress casual gone wild?

Is your presentation logical? Have you dumbed it down so everyone can easily understand what you are saying? Do you make sense? Do you build from one key point to another? Does your presentation lead somewhere? This is all Format and you need to get it right.

Frankly, from what I’ve seen, and I see lots of agency presentations, most agencies seriously fall down in the Format stage. In fact, most agencies, and this is coming from the search consultants who sit in on agency pitches all the time, say prospects are most often seriously disappointed at the quality of the presentations they see. There is no Style. Format is weak. And Content, the third element of pitch, all looks and sounds the same from agency to agency.


The third element is content. I’ve sat in day-long new business planning sessions where each word in a presentation is agonized over, discussed, argued and beat to a pulp. Hours wasted on reviewing the 120 slide pitch deck. Each slide is analyzed in isolation to the big picture. And while each slide is finally perfect, clear and perhaps even makes a great point, the overall message is lost in the clutter. A few key points when thinking about content:

  • Brand your message
  • Presentation built on one central theme
  • Check, check, double check for mistakes/typos
  • Avoid hyperbole
  • Clearly demonstrate a clear path to success/results
  • Less is more – remove all excess and put in the leave behind


The fourth, and most important, element of presentations is Chemistry. New business wins swing most often on which firm the prospect likes best. Every search consultant will tell you the work, strategy, and presentation are all important – but the number one reason a firm is hired is the client felt a connection with them. They liked them the most – not which firm does the best work. Once you understand this, you can see why new business is mainly about people and your firm’s likeability. Learn how to best match your people with prospects, so they like you better. Learn how to profile prospects before you even meet them.

Call Us.

If you have a Defining Moment, call us. We have an excellent track record of helping agencies win pitches of all shapes and sizes. We can help, from large multinational wins to small local business wins. Whatever is a Defining Moment for your agency is a defining moment for Sanders Consulting Group to help you win, help you redefine who you are and what you stand for.

You’ll get the training and learn the processes that can keep you winning. I’ve seen defining moments change the direction of an agency for years to come just by winning that one key first account. If you’re there, then reach out: [email protected] or 412.897.9329.


Photo by FourOneSeven