We were days away from one of the most important chemistry meetings of the year when we went into lockdown. We had to pivot from a beautifully orchestrated "physical show" to a remote presentation in 24 hours.
None of us had ever used Microsoft Teams, but we attacked that task with creativity and clarity. Partly due to the novelty of the situation, and partly because of the brilliant way we Brits culturally attack a crisis: Keep calm and carry on.
And we nailed it. Primarily because we categorically gave up on anything we would normally have done. We ditched PowerPoint, posters and handouts, and instead we re-concepted to a long-form news documentary style – something you might watch on TV that would include numerous presenters and be highly informative, but also engaging and entertaining.
We wore bright impactful colours, we had lights shining on our faces, our backgrounds were professionally blurred. We rehearsed a million times so that it was seamless; we had a shared script so that if anyone dropped off or lost connection then someone else could just step in. We talked to camera and used very sparing, clear visuals to support the key points. We asked clients to take photos of those slides so that they could look back at their phones and remind themselves of the core points in our content.
As the pandemic continued, we honed our online pitching technique. We set up one-to-one chemistry calls with potential team members so we could ensure the clients liked the pitch team. We replaced physical take-home giveaways with digital "Easter eggs". And we honed our storytelling to maximise the drama of every pitch.
I’m making it sound like we got it down pat. But honestly, I am still struggling with certain aspects. I yearn for the days when we had Thai takeaway parties at 2am and Haribo-high fits of giggles that created memories we cherish.
As a highly social collaborator who gets my energy from working as a team, I mourn the inability to all get in a room. I yearn for the days we could put the presentation up on a long wall and replace final assets as we made them. I grieve for the days a pitch team would sit together for the length of the process, live and breathe together, become symbiotic and unstoppable. I hate that the only time we "get together" is on status calls for one hour, for creative WIPS, and that our platform means I can’t even see everyone’s faces on one screen.
I also hate the pitches where clients turn off their cameras. In case there was any doubt, I am going to say it out loud: this is disrespectful and unfair. How can we hone our presentation when we can’t see your faces, your reactions, your body language? How can we know when something isn’t clear or too detailed or if the energy needs to step up? Presenting virtually is hard enough, presenting into a void is soul destroying. There, I said it!
However, there are things I will miss when we go back to "real life" (if we ever truly do).
The first is the honesty and simplicity of remote pitching. There is nowhere to hide in this medium. You have either nailed the story, the strategy and the idea or you haven’t. You can’t distract with amazing cakes or swanky office spaces. I do believe that the best response now wins in a much truer way than before.
But finally, there is that invaluable "second screen" aspect of the chat function. Who knew this would become so instrumental to the pitch? That it would add such a vital layer to the chemistry? Whether it’s what the team use to publicly validate what their teammate is saying, or a chance to really connect with the clients in a much more informal way while simultaneously presenting formally, the chat is a gift I will truly miss.
The latest pitch I did was for KFC and the client team used the chat to say, in the very moment, the bits they liked best. We used a "bucket it or bin it" system, if they liked an idea it went in the bucket and if they didn’t it went in the bin.
This was amazing, and so deeply appreciated. It meant we presented better and better as the time passed because we felt so encouraged and validated. I now know that this is absolutely true to their culture as an organisation so I am over the moon that we won and can carry on thriving within their positive, open and kind values.
So remote pitching, you are Marmite, except that I keep on switching sides.
Gabrielle Ludzker is chief executive at Rapp
Photo: VioletaStoimenova/Getty Images