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Why your pitch didn’t clinch the deal

80:20 Communications - 24th March 2016

The PR Pitch: You’ve brainstormed with the team, you’ve worked hard developing creative ideas, you’ve addressed the target audience, target media and objectives and you’ve spent hours proofing the final document. And yet you didn’t win the business. ‘Why the hell not?’ I hear you indignantly cry.

Pitches are a core part of the PR industry. Some people love them, some don’t, but we’ve all won and we’ve all lost – but thought we should have won. So let’s examine the key points of a good PR pitch and address the reasons why your pitch may not have clinched the deal.


• Understanding the industry
It’s all well and good being an excellent PR practitioner, but every company wants to know that you are engrained in their own industry, that you understand their core business and the issues they deal with, who the market leaders are, what their competitors are doing and what they need to achieve to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t know that information, it will be obvious in the conversations you have with them preceding the pitch and during the pitch process itself.

Engage and learn before you start putting ‘pen to paper’ and, most importantly, demonstrate that knowledge when you do start developing the proposal.

• The company’s competitors
Companies will know who their competitors are, but there is nothing to lose in demonstrating what you have found by telling a company who those competitors are, what they are good and bad at, and what that company needs to do to stand out from them. Every company looking for a PR agency is going to be open to, and enjoy hearing about, their own strengths and weaknesses and this will inevitably lead to comparisons with competitors.

Ensure you advise them how to address their weaknesses in order to progress them to a more level playing field with their competitors; use real examples of how you have done this for other clients.

• Showing off what you will do
You know what you will do for them, so be realistic and tell them. You are the expert in the media so get out your forward planning documents and show them where content will appear. What forward features can they be in this year? What will their key trades be talking about in the lead up to the summer holidays? How far in advance of Christmas do you need to target the long-lead magazines with festive angles? What awards can they enter? What key, topical events coming up can they comment on – the Budget? Brexit? International Women’s Day?

Get in the mindset that you have won the business and tell them what you are going to do for them in the next 12 months.

• Creativity
Your creativity will play a large part in the decision making process. Every agency will include general media relations activity in their proposal – the bread and butter of PR, whether that’s how you deal with everything from features, article writing and trade shows to media visits, stakeholder communications and content for social media. What can you add to those activities and how can you deliver the ‘biggest and best’ creative ideas for PR stunts, marketing comms and project work? The best creative ideas certainly don’t need to be the ‘biggest’, but they do need to be realistic both in achievability and budget.

Do your research, make sure the idea can actually be done before you walk into the pitch; cost it up and explain in detail why they should consider your idea. If you haven’t worked this out yourself, then how will they?

• Case studies
We all know the media loves a good case study. Try and find them yourself before you walk into the pitch. Tell them who their assets are and demonstrate how you can leverage them in the media. There are so many ways to present case studies, through official looking case study documents, written articles and Q&As, but also great case studies can be presented as video content (which you can produce yourself), in image collages and as lively quotes.

You are the expert in what will make a good case study, so do your research, suggest who they might utilise and how they can be presented.

• Chemistry
Before you walked into your pitch, did the company really know the individuals presenting; had they spoken to them on the phone, or received any emails from them? The pitch itself is not always long enough, or the best opportunity to test the chemistry. We are all human and on the day of the pitch, when you might be feeling nervous and guarded, they may not necessarily be seeing you as the natural, warm and kind human being that you so obviously are.

Try to build a bit of a relationship before the pitch day. Obviously don’t hound them or send them links to the latest hilarious feature on MailOnline, but you can arrange a time to speak with them on the phone to ask sensible questions and you can email them (once or twice) a link to a news/business article that may be relevant.

• C’est la vie
So you’ve tried your very best, you’ve done your utmost to win them over in various ways, but you still haven’t won the pitch. Firstly, don’t sue us – we certainly don’t have all the answers. Secondly, ensure you understand, from them, why you didn’t win. After all the hours you have spent in preparation and delivery, you are perfectly entitled to have that conversation to understand where you didn’t fulfil their criteria. Maybe you just weren’t good enough, the chemistry wasn’t right, or another agency was better; but also it could be down to internal politics, budget restrictions, a consolidation of international agencies or even the final decision being made by someone who wasn’t even in the pitch.

The important thing, if you really feel you could have won, is that you understand why you didn’t and that you don’t feel shy about asking that question.

After that, and I hate to say it…shake it off. Learn and move on – rest assured, no PR practitioner wins every piece of business they pitch for.