Great pitchers in business can be a sight to behold; under the fiercest spotlight combining eloquence, charisma, charm, stage-presence and nerves of steel. Four approaches I observed many truly great pitchers employing or embodying can be boiled down to The Friend, The Magician, The Hypnotist, The Zealot. Recognise any? Feel free to comment and add any other approaches you’ve observed.
The Friend: It’s just you and me talking now
When I was a young whippersnapper, just starting my career in PR, the very talented pitch presenter Jim Dowling gave me some very valuable advice after a pitch, when he said: “Jono, you don’t have to sell them the idea so much – just have a chat with them about it”.
It was simple as that. But of course, it isn’t. Controlling the pitch adrenalin and creating an atmosphere that suggests it is all a cozy conversation between you and the potential client isn’t easy. But the “Friend” is a master at the art of conviviality, by using a gentle tone of voice, making informal warm gestures, bantering with the audience and bringing in as many human elements as possible, for example, anecdotes about their home life that relate to the pitch. After a pitch with the Friend, you will feel like you have just had afternoon tea with Michael Parkinson and just been invited back for dinner.
Giving your business to the Friend? As if he was selling to you, that wouldn’t be in the spirit of friendship. He just gave you some subtle steers and advice that you really wanted to lean in and listen to.
The Magician: You could have that, but I really want to give you this
The Magician will cleverly present the client with a perfectly adequate solution to their challenge (possibly even hinting that that is exactly the solution a rival firm would provide) before dismissing that solution for something far better.
The approach is balls-out and requires a level of showmanship, but in the right hands, it can leave the audience feeling as though they have absolutely no choice but to choose that agency, unless they want the second-best solution, and who wants Lidl when they’ve just had a wander around Waitrose?
The Hypnotist: Remember this one thing
A certain Richard Miller, was a master at the art of focusing the attention of the pitch audience to an almost Derren Brown-like degree. He would sit silent during a pitch presentation, watching the audience with quiet intensity, before suddenly commanding everyone’s attention, putting his hands together in a prayer-like gesture like a high priest of some obscure religious sect, and saying very softly, but very clearly: “If you remember nothing else from this last half hour, remember this…” He was the Hypnotist, guiding the pitch audience like the Greek Chorus breaching the gap between the on-stage protagonists and the audience in ancient theatre.
Hypnotist’s pronouncements can only work if used sparingly. Only once a pitch and only when the most senior pitcher has taken on a more curative role, leaving much of the narration to others. But when it works and it does the audience leave looking like this…
Zealot: Your brief isn’t asking the right question. The right question to ask is… and the answer is…
The Zealot is a conviction presenter: they will tell the client exactly what to do and how they should do it, positioning themselves as the lifeline between the brand’s success and utter oblivion. It is a high risk ‘take it or leave it, and by way close the door on your way out’ approach, that is reminiscent of Don Draper in Mad Men. The approach takes serious nerve and can massively backfire, especially when it involves telling the audience they may be wrong in their assumptions about what success is and need to consider something very different. I have seen this pitching played to perfection, especially by master presenters coming from an advertising background, such as the charismatic Mark Whelan or David Proudlock. Naturally, if unlike the two aforementioned people, you are not a person who has the brilliance to turn around a brand and lead it through some level of risk to far greater success, you shouldn’t try this approach!