Close-Up: Opinion - Reflections from the receiving end of the pitch

Improvised pitches, embroidered presentations, bin-liner-wearing creatives. Raoul Pinnell offers a view from the client side.

Raoul Pinnell's marketing career has spanned Heinz, Nestle, Prudential, NatWest and, latterly, Shell, where he was the chairman of Shell Brands International. A former vice-president of ISBA, Pinnell is now a governor of the History of Advertising Trust and a trustee with Leonard Cheshire Disability, and is assembling a portfolio of non-executive directorships. Here, he shares his insights of a life spent on the client side of the marketing fence.


Strange how no agency ever pitched to me with their 30-second ad. For businesses that almost always concluded they could make my case in half a minute, it was funny how long they would take to make theirs. Most of the pitches were taken up with "credentials" presentations and recommendations from current clients. Interesting to note that "recommendations" feature so strongly in a pitch, but rarely as part of the solution to a client's brief.

I believe clients should pay agencies to pitch. When I ran a global media buying pitch for Shell, it helped to bind in a multitude of internal stakeholders to a rigorous process, for which there would be a bill. Everyone then took it seriously, both clients and agencies. Fraser Riddell of MediaCom said it was the most impressive and comprehensive briefing he'd ever seen. MediaCom prepared so well that when Steve Allan's computer crashed, he did the pitch from memory. Or was this a trick? We will never know - but he landed the business and delivered the promised savings.


It's amazing how many presentations of creative work were made with no pictures, just a poor show from a would-be actor (usually an embattled account man), reading from a script. Of course, all clients learn to read upside down, so that they can see from the file reference on the top of the presentation document that it was created that morning.

It was always much better to ask for the creatives to be let loose and come and present directly to the client. And then give them a lesson. At the end of their presentation, I would tell them that feedback would be given by having them witness their clients discussing the idea in the round, with no comment from the creative team, thank you. When we concluded our discussion, I would sum up. This tended to air all the issues quickly and openly, and it still allowed the client to be brave and motivating.

I was always intrigued as to the order in which a range of ideas were presented. Preferred one first or last? Often, the one the creative director preferred had to be teased out of the bottom of the bag. "Have you got anything else?" we'd ask. Usually, these were far more raw, more of a creative primal scream. At Shell, the JWT global account director, Tim Davis, pulled one of these "last scripts" from his pocket. "It is not yet fully developed. It's called 'refuelling'," he said.

It was a one-line script in which a plane refuelled a Ferrari Formula One car with Shell petrol. "Can you make it?" I asked. "Of course," he replied.

A few days later, he returned to request a small budget to "work out camera angles" for a Handycam film test. We agreed. When JWT showed us the output, we had a jerky film with the voiceover of the director giving directions to the plane and the car. When the plane came in low over the car, we heard the director's voice: "Fuck me, it is going to work, we can do it after all."

So, you learn not to believe all you're told, but to trust, and to hope. But, for many ideas, I had no worries, as I knew that we would use research to round their edges. Far better rather than what happens to creative work in the coffee bar of the agency.


Robin Wight got it right. The bow tie was connected to his personality. He had them painted to fit his persona. There was no dissonance. It added to his sense of creativity. But it was backed up by a remorseless chase for business, and a deep respect for the "archaeology of the brand".

However, I remember a creative, when I was at Nestle, dressed in a black bin-liner, who claimed he was "in touch with our customers". We asked for him to be removed from our account.

We had some challenges at Bartle Bogle Hegarty when I was at NatWest. I was worried that it had led the business into an advertising solution to address the core customer problem, summed up with the line "we are here to make your life easier", when everything that we actually did was the opposite. John Hegarty was defending the work. A main board director whispered to me: "I won't lend money to people with beards or gold Rolls-Royces - why should we trust a man dressed in pyjamas?" We stopped the advertising - but I did manage to stop the agency being fired.

Sir Martin Sorrell has always been the consummate suit. Businesslike, contactable 24/7, the master juggler of two mobile phones and several BlackBerrys, and all in the back of a cab in New York, speaking to someone in Tokyo, between two meetings. Even when dressed in a polo shirt in the Paddock Club at an F1 Grand Prix, his opening line would always be: "Are any of my clients in this motorhome?"


Is the word helpful or unhelpful? Would it be better if those involved in advertising called themselves "practitioners in the communications industry"?

I don't believe so. It is what the name stands for and how it evolves that is most important, not the word itself. After all, many brands have changed their meaning over the years. My mother used Domestos to whiten my father's shirts ... my wife wouldn't dream of destroying my shirts with the stuff.

How should advertising evolve post-30-second-centric-TV-world? In my view, nothing has changed, in the sense that we still need a big, powerful idea. Still the most effective way of developing this is to place a 30-second ad at the centre of the communications dartboard. The bull's-eye may be getting smaller, and some of the outer rings might be all that our customers alight on, but the big idea has to be routed in a core to ensure a cohesive whole.


So, is it all about creativity? No. It is also about courage and integrity: standing up to a client, in partnership, with your point of view. In my Nestle days, we were obsessed with the quality of our ingredients. We pushed JWT to produce advertising featuring men in chef's whites producing dishes in soft-focus kitchens accompanied by a voiceover extolling our virtuous journey to high mountains to find and select the finest bell peppers, all against a backdrop of classical music. Jeremy Bullmore turned to me and said: "Raoul, you are not selling your ingredients and your expertise, which your customers take for granted, but selling pizzas. Pizzas are a fun product, and your French Bread Pizzas are new and even more fun. Let's show them being enjoyed in a party scene, by slightly wacky people." We did. Sales went through the roof. Clients need partners who are not sycophantic, but intelligently challenging.