Close-Up: Live Issue - Never mind the pitch, it's post-pitch what counts

Pippa Considine discovers that agencies will go to virtually any lengths to steal a march on their rivals and land an account.

The presentation has finished and the client has left the agency, but there are still precious hours, days, even weeks left before the marketing team decides the winner. It's a period in which it's still possible to influence the outcome. "The real pitch doesn't start until the official pitch is over," one agency chief says.

In the recent BBC review, both winning agencies - Fallon and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R - continued a conversation with the client well after the official pitch had ended.

The BBC is one of Fallon's oldest clients, so some degree of contact seemed natural. "There were inevitably questions after the pitch, largely about people, logistics and procurement," Helen Weisinger, Fallon's new-business director, explains. RKCR/Y&R took the opportunity to send over its new Virgin Trains ad, which hadn't been released when the pitch was held.

When it comes to unsolicited contact after the pitch, the AAR's director of advertising, Martin Jones, has some advice: "There's a very simple rule that you are not going to persuade someone who doesn't want you that you are the agency for the business by badgering them. If they like you and you send them things, they will see you as hungry. If they don't like you, they'll see you as being annoying."

"There's an agonising wait when you've done your pitch and you're waiting for a decision," Judy Mitchem, the chief marketing officer at Lowe London, says. "If your work goes into research for three weeks, there's only so much you can do, and there's only so much dialogue you can have with your prospective client. You can't ask them what they want for Christmas or parade up and down outside their office dressed as a banana."

That said, there are a number of smart, enthusiastic and helpful follow-up moves that agencies can make. Most are discreet and above-board, although it has been known for agencies to go for an in-your-face stunt or a bit of skullduggery.

Three years ago, the Harveys furniture client returned to his hotel room after hearing final pitches, to find it filled with helium balloons. In another post-pitch gambit, an ambitious agency sent a motorcycle rider to get in front of the client's cab, so that the client could read a message printed on his back.

Legend has it that, in the 80s, Saatchi & Saatchi cooked up the ruse of offering its car to clients going on to other agencies on the pitch-list. The driver would listen in on the client's post-pitch conversation and rush back to the agency to debrief, giving Saatchis a chance to patch up any smaller differences.

Even when the pitch is all but lost, it has been known for an agency to turn the client's head, and not just as result of a weekend's round of golf. In 1999, HHCL & Partners believed that it had won the Rover account. M&C Saatchi had pitched, but its work had been dismissed. Rather than take no for an answer, M&C's pitch team, headed by the then joint chief executive, Moray MacLennan, completely revised the work over a weekend. They persuaded the client to put it into research and won the business.

MacLennan, now the chairman of M&C Saatchi, says: "We've done everything, from sending an e-mail saying that it's lovely to meet you, to rewriting the whole presentation and sending it to the client within 24 hours."

Even if an agency fails to win a pitch, maintaining a relationship with the client can pay dividends in the long term. There are plenty of examples where a business has appointed an agency after a pitch, only for the relationship not to work out, whereupon the client has approached one of the losing shops. WCRS's continuing dialogue with the Weetabix client was vital in landing the business the second time around earlier this year.

There are other constructive post-pitch possibilities. The first thing clients will probably do after the pitch is to delve into their pitch pack, which can be laced, goody-bag style, with seductive extras - T-shirts, DVDs and knick-knacks. It's been known for agencies to find a remarkable link between their creative idea and expensive perfume or designer sunglasses, which lie in wait after the event.

It's not uncommon for agencies to ask for another meeting. It's unlikely that the client will agree, but representing new ideas or strategies in the light of pitch conversations is generally fair play. At WCRS, the new-business director, Matt Edwards, describes how, after the Kerrygold pitch, the team went back with further TV creative work before clinching the deal.

Depending on the client, enthusiastic follow-up can be impressive. Helen Kimber, the business development director at RKCR/Y&R, deploys various tactics. "We might give them new work, which wasn't ready to show in the pitch meeting, or contact them just after we won a new award, such as the IPA Effectiveness Grand Prix," she says.

Another initiative that can go down well is a bit of personnel reshuffling, where it makes sense to offer a different team from the one suggested at the pitch. It's a move that wins approval from Suki Thompson, the managing director of The Haystack Group. "Changing the team or bringing in new people to help the client to make a decision is a smart thing to do," she says.

Most clients will want to talk money and logistics after the pitch, but before signing on the dotted line. This leaves some room for an agency to undercut its rivals. "Some agencies come back to suggest cutting their fees," Thompson adds. "There are clients that are definitely interested in this."

Casting aspersions on other agencies during the pitch isn't unheard of, either. Rumours flew around the British Airways pitch about espionage, end-lines and attempts to poison the client's mind against the competition's solution. Making the client aware of certain difficult situations that might exist at a rival agency is also a recognised tactic. On a more whimsical note, during a recent pitch for a tea brand, a flask of tea, sent by one agency, was handed to the client on arriving at a subsequent pitch, with the message: "Our tea is better than theirs."

So what does the client think of all this effort after the whistle has blown? Jeremy Davies, Abbey's director of brand and communications, says: "Generally, the process of reaching a decision is relatively difficult, and therefore when a decision is made, it's not necessarily helpful to be lobbied to change that decision." He can, however, see the point in some minor negotiating, when the difference between agency offerings is marginal.

But what about gimmicks and stunts? Well, Davies, for one, is a client who isn't all grey suit and procurement. "I'd be surprised if a gimmick on its own has ever won a pitch, but it can help to bring the strategy to life," he says.

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