On Being Dependable


We had a new business pitch last week. If you’ve ever been through a new business pitch, you know that it’s a strange kind of animal. When I’m asked which creatives do I want on my pitch team, the characteristic that’s usually at the top of my list is dependability.

Creatives are cut a lot of slack. We’re allowed to be disorganized. Late for meetings. A little flighty. I think this is a disservice to us. We shouldn’t be allowed to be those things. And when it comes to a new business pitch, those things can be deadly.

With this pitch, I was fortunate to have a very dependable team. It also happened to be a team with a lot of young people, several who had never been through a new business pitch before. But here’s what I saw from them:

1) They followed direction.
2) They kept pushing ideas.
3) They came to meetings. They were on time.
4) They didn’t waste time bitching about how f’ed up things were. Maybe this was because they aren’t the kind to bitch, or maybe because they didn’t have enough experience to know that it was f’ed–new business pitches are always f’ed to some degree.
5) They didn’t draw lines as to whose idea was whose. We were all in it together.
6) They often asked, “What can I do?”
7) They didn’t draw lines as to whose job was whose. If it needed doing, they’d do it.
8) They kept a good attitude. Even the art director who worked all day Sunday until 7:30 Monday morning, then went home for a shower and came back two hours later to work some more had a smile on her face.
9) They spoke their mind, but realized that once a decision was made, we were all moving in that direction. They didn’t take criticism or killed work personally.

Being able to depend on someone to come up with a great idea is important. I’d obviously want that as well. But in a pitch, when half the battle is about process, about being efficient and getting through it all without killing each other, these other nine kinds of dependable are just as important.

The Pitch

I just wrapped up a new business pitch and was reminded once again of how different pitch life is from regular advertising life. Here’s a few things to expect when you’re called upon to pitch new business.

1) Hours = crazy. Very crazy. If work hours were normally like this, I don’t think I’d be able to do it. But with a pitch, you have a date that you’re working toward. There’s always an end in sight. So it’s easier to dedicate everything you’ve got to it.

2) Team dynamic. It will get stressful, people will get pissed at each other and feelings will be hurt, but a team that works well together realizes these bumps are part of the process, quickly pushes through them and gets it done nonetheless.

3) Range of ideas. An agency is much more likely to take in a slightly wider range of ideas to a pitch than they might for a current client. They’ll blow everything out into every medium, even if the client hasn’t asked for it. This is because it’s pretty common for a client to pick an agency based on its thinking rather than a specific campaign. So showing a breadth of thinking is sometimes more important than getting the campaign exactly right.

4) Level of finish. While agencies might present with rough marker comps and a mood board to an existing client, pitch work will be executed as if it were going into a portfolio. Storyboards will be tight, professional illustrations or photo comps, or even an edited video. Print should look almost ready for press. This all takes a lot of time, and the craft becomes very important.

5) Pitch theater. Each agency has its own style, but it’s always very intentional. From being as choreographed and rehearsed as a stage production to simply putting a really smart person in front of the client and letting him or her present from a booklet, how the work is presented is often as important as what is presented. What will the room look like? Will work be on boards or on a screen? How will the work be brought to life? What will the leave-behind look like?

6) The winner. An enormous amount of time, money and energy is spent pitching new business, and only one agency will have anything to show for it. This can be a morale killer for the losing agencies. The thing to remember is that clients select agencies for all kinds of reasons. It might be the work, it might be the chemistry with the team or the strategic thinking. It might be the name of the agency, or the name of one of its leaders. Or, as happens often, one of the people at one of the agencies might already have a relationship with the client, giving them a leg up. All you can do it put your best foot forward, work your ass off and hope for the best.

Timeline of a Pitch

June 2007: We begin pitching the National City Bank business.

July 2007: In a preliminary meeting, the client gravitates to the line “Some banks have tellers. We have listeners.”

August 2007: After a couple rounds, the client still really likes the tellers/listeners line.

September 2007: We make our final presentation to National City. The campaign isn’t all about that single line, but it’s included in the work.

October 2007: We’re told that we had the “best strategy” the “best creative” but that the agency is “a little too young, and a little too hip” for them.

November 2007: The business is awarded to Campbell-Mithun.

March 2008: I pass this National City Bank window on my way to work…


I’m not posting to complain. I just want to share a good joke.