Pitch Perfect?

Pitching Blog Image 170x127“Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about. They didn’t do it for individual glory. They did it because they loved one another.”

-Vince Lombardi


Well, it’s football season, so what better way to start things off than with a coach who understood the roots of winning.

While football season is only with us when the air cools and the kids put on their backpacks to return to school, pitch season is always upon us.

For those of us who are pitch junkies, it is an amazing blend of S&M-brink-of-pleasure-and-pain that makes the experience so fulfilling. There is a magnificent energy that, if harvested correctly, can have your team humming along towards a victory at the finish line.

Recently, I was part of a winning team that came together perfectly, so I thought it would be interesting to showcase what went right and provide a few guideposts to follow on your next pitch adventure.

1. Don’t Check Your Ego at the Door

We always hear that to work as a team, you need to tone the ego down a bit. I’m not so sure this is true. Keeping your ego in place can elevate the work and push others on your team to do the same. Challenging each other while still respecting team members can make all the horrible ideas fall by the wayside. Remember, ego doesn’t mean you’re always right. It just means you are confident in yourself. If everyone’s feeling the confidence and not being threatened by it, victory shall be had.

2. Account People Are Creative

Creative doesn’t just mean fancy words and amazing visuals. In our industry, it calls for a deep understanding of what the client is looking to do with their product: Do they want to create a new category or separate it from their competitors? What impact can they make and what space do they want to play in? This is creative thinking, so if you see it this way, if you make the Account lead’s brain part of this process, your creative will be elevated with a strong reasoning behind it. Remember, our Account friends don’t live to fill in boxes of spreadsheets. They’re here to be part of the fun. Let them play!

3. Digital Is Not Separate From Creative

We have a strong tendency on pitches to not bring Digital in until the last minute. At this point, they are usually asked to produce a few “tactics” to help elevate the overall big idea. This is like constructing a building and then asking someone to come in and give their advice on how to decorate the lobby. They won’t have a vested interest in the finished product. Digital folks are up on the latest technology trends, so there their tactics greatly help to push the creative to a higher level. If they understand the science and are part of the medical download, their chops will be even more valuable. Bring them in early.

4. Your Medical Director Should Be Along for the Whole Ride

The science leads on your project are not just people clicking through PowerPoint slides, explaining disease-state information. Understand that they are an integral part of this industry because they bring what they’ve learned in the lab to the people. We, the pitch team, are their first point of contact, so embrace their information. Ask questions. Probe. It will come through to the client. Medical Directors have tremendous minds to explore, so if you make them your partner instead of just your teacher, you’ll find the relationship to be a boost to all. When it comes to pitch time, they are going to be the ones answering the client’s most challenging questions, so it’s best they feel like they have contributed to all aspects of what’s being presented.

5. Your Creative Team Is Always Listening

This is where all of the science, strategy and direction comes together as an idea. Good creative is the combination of thoughts into a beautiful idea that has a life of its own. While embracing an idea is important, it’s essential that the ownership of the idea go to the pitch, not the creative team. Beautiful creative is an offering to the greater good of the team. It’s a manifestation of everyone’s hard work. To perform at a heightened level, the creative team needs to have all the possible information available to them. Invite them to meetings and let them hear your internal debates. You never know where a creative idea is going to come from.

There you have it. The quote at the top by Lombardi is the overarching theme that can guide your pitch. There is that intangible bond that all pitch team members feel with each other that comes through to the client. Remember, they want to have confidence in the team that will be carrying out their vision for their products.

Nothing is more potent than the fuel of love. And perhaps a drink or two along the way to help get you across the goal line.

Questions? Comments? You can contact the author directly at blog@ochww.com.
Please allow 24 hours for response.

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My First Experience Working on a New Business Pitch

FinishLineAt first I was apprehensive about working on a pitch. And by apprehensive, I mean…terrified. I heard about the sleepless nights. I heard about the weeks in overdrive. I heard about the soul-stealing, confidence-crushing monster (perhaps known by others as a time crunch). I imagined myself going into crisis mode…which isn’t pretty, let me tell you: a lot of crying and a lot of M&M binging. But I soon learned that the Kleenex and the M&Ms wouldn’t be necessary. For me, working on a new business pitch ended up being an amazing experience, and a bit like college orientation.

During my freshman year of college, I was placed in an orientation group. It was The Breakfast Club all over again: a group of people who wouldn’t ordinarily hang out are all put in a room, bring their individual personalities to the table, become friends, and develop a special bond because of their experience together. This experience was replicated at Ogilvy CommonHealth in my first new business pitch that happened just weeks after I started my role as a planner.  Not only was I able to meet a lot of new, amazing people and develop relationships with them, but I was also introduced to what my life would be like as a planner. While these relationships were definitely important for the purpose of the pitch, I really loved that they significantly influenced the work I would do in the future. Plus, it made the office a friendlier place!

Now down to business. So, I mentioned my first new business pitch happened just weeks after I began my role as a planner in CommonHealth.  In my 6 months as an Associate, I had some exposure to Ogilvy’s Fusion system and to market research—all very much on the surface. On this pitch, I knew I would get to go way deeper into a brand than I had gone before. This was the opportunity for me to really get my hands dirty. I couldn’t wait. I was able to be part of the planning process from start to finish for the first time. I researched market trends, I conducted target audience interviews, I drafted the Fusion Journey and Blueprint, and I even got to write the creative brief—all in just a few weeks, and of course with supervision (Thanks, Mindy!). I loved becoming the expert on the client’s business and even more so the target; I loved learning about the different experiences these people had, whether a benefit consultant giving weight-loss program anecdotes, or an HR manager sharing how she chooses health and wellness programs for her company; I got to be a part of their world for a few minutes, and I felt their excitement and pride as they told me about their roles in their companies. I loved being a part of the entire pitch process from the competitive audit down to writing my very first DO Brief. It was a three-week taste of everything I would get a chance to work on in my career as a planner. And it tasted amazing.

Goodbye soul-stealing, confidence-crushing monster (the time crunch again). Goodbye M&Ms. Actually, not goodbye M&Ms, I still quite like your chocolatey crunch—not ready to be rid of you quite yet. But seriously, working on a new business pitch has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me at Ogilvy CommonHealth, not only for the extensive planning experience that I gained in such a short time, but also for the friendships I made along the way. Thanks, team! Oh, and to make my first pitch experience even sweeter, we won the business! I continue to work on the brand and grow my planning experiences every day.

Questions? Comments? You can contact the author directly at blog@ochww.com.
Please allow 24 hours for response.

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Why Does The Pharmaceutical Industry Have A Promiscuous Relationship With Its Communication Agencies?

Hard to believe that in the consumer goods, financial, and motor industry sectors many client/agency relationships have lasted up to 50 years, in some cases, and in many instances average at least a decade.

Compare this to the hire-and-fire approach taken by some in the pharma industry. While there are some long-standing pharma/agency partnerships, it is not uncommon to replace agencies on an annual basis. Neither it is unusual to remove them if something relatively minor occurs or the chemistry isn’t right.

Is it sensible to believe that creativity and price competitiveness can only be achieved by wielding the sword of Damocles over the heads of the agency with the constant threat of repitch?

Currently there is huge pressure on the pharma industry to improve innovation and efficiency, and sustain or gain competitive advantage. Can this be achieved by continuing to engage with communications agencies in such a promiscuous manner?

At a time when there is a reduction in internal resources in the industry, the true cost of an agency change should be considered. Beyond just the monetary cost, each agency change will involve:

  •  Writing a brief
  • Selecting agencies to take part
  • Q&As in the lead-up to pitch with each agency
  • Pitching 3 to 4 agencies with a minimum half-day each, involving multiple internal stakeholders
  • Bringing a new agency on board with medical and marketing briefings
  • Familiarizing the new agency with company and team processes

All the above can impact what is a condensed marketing lifespan for many products. In addition, companies often lose the knowledge base, continuity of talent, and learning that are some of the benefits of a long-term relationship.

However, it is a true sense of partnership that is often missing on both sides. Why do clients and agencies behave any differently than they would upon entering and sustaining any other relationships?

All successful long-term relationships rely on trust, solving problems together, communication transparency, working out where things are going wrong and resolving them in partnership for a better outcome.

Then there is creativity: how do you keep each other excited in a relationship? It takes hard work and planning—date nights, trying something new together, having fun! This would be hard to do if your partner was constantly threatening to look elsewhere, telling you that others were far more attractive and exciting, and perhaps cheaper to keep!  Why would you want to give your best to a partner who focused on blame, didn’t give you a second chance when things were not going as well as expected, or was not willing to see that “it takes two to tango”?

On the agency side, when there is little belief in the long-term partnership, it is too easy to change the talent resource, be closed to investing in the relationship, not give your absolute best, and not be flexible in the remuneration model. This behavior in turn leads to an unsatisfied partner, and the vicious cycle continues.

With true partnership, the pharma industry and agencies can only gain. Open and trusting communications, a belief that problems can and will be mutually fixed, a sense of loyalty and collective focus on the brand will reap rewards. This includes the agency’s willingness to invest in the relationship, the best talent wanting to work on accounts with clients who behave in this way, a desire to go the extra mile, and a focus on creativity and innovation rather than worrying about the wandering eye of the pharma industry!


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Who Sped Up The Pitch Clock?

What is happening to pharma’s new business pitch process?

It seems that recently the process has become more and more compressed. Major partnership decisions are being made based on a one-hour presentation—which is based on the agencies often being given only two weeks to prepare a full pitch, including brand strategy and creative.

While I can appreciate the pressures pharma is facing, it seems that providing a potential long-term partner with sufficient time to think about their business, develop sound recommendations and then deliver those recommendations in a respectful period of time might produce a more successful outcome and lead to fewer “re-pitches” just a year later. I also believe it’s difficult to get a sense of true chemistry in just a one-hour period.

A better pitch process model starts off with a brief agency interview to get to know the agency team members and determine if, in fact, they are worthy of participating in the RFP process. This is followed by completion of a thoughtfully written RFP, with the client narrowing the selection down to the top three agencies (vs. a cattle call). Next comes the opportunity to speak in person with the brand team and ask questions that better inform the agency’s efforts as well as test chemistry, being provided three to four weeks to develop the pitch, and finally, having the client excited and eager to invest a reasonable amount of time for the presentation and the opportunity to interact with each agency. Evaluating the potential partner further by conducting a site visit and spending more time with the extended team seems as if it would help to truly solidify such an important partnership decision.

As an agency, I would be pleased to invest more time in pitches for clients who are willing to do the same to secure a meaningful long-term partnership that would ultimately produce truly great work and positive business results.

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