Marching brass bands or a cow in the boardroom might seem over the top now, but the days of the showy pitch aren’t quite over.

Marching brass bands or a cow in the boardroom might seem over the top

now, but the days of the showy pitch aren’t quite over.

‘Must try harder’ was surely never written on the school reports of ad

agency personnel. When it comes to pitches, the advertising industry

strains every sinew to get straight As. Thousands of pounds can be

invested, hundreds of pencils chewed and gallons of midnight oil burnt

in the search for the ultimate idea - the angle that will make the

client desperate to hire the agency’s genius.

Take the cow and the Milk Marketing Board. No, sorry, you can’t - it’s

probably still stuck in the lift. At the time it must have seemed like a

peach of an idea: simple (milk equals cow) and impactful (cow equals

large, unexpected animal in boardroom). But putting an ad agency in

charge of a live cow must be similar to asking a Welsh sheep farmer to

evaluate an omnibus survey. As Jerry Green, now the creative director of

McCann-Erickson, remembers: ‘The agency in question used to be off the

main square in Covent Garden. It was a listed building with a very small

lift and the cow got jammed in it and couldn’t be persuaded out. The

client had to be led up the staircase to the pitch room.’

If it’s hard to understand the inscrutable ways of domestic cattle, how

about the Japanese? Grant Duncan, the managing director of GGT, recalls

a pitch for Japan Airlines when he was at Collett Dickenson Pearce.

‘Protocol was key and so we were carefully briefed about how to conduct

ourselves. We knew when and how to bow, could say good morning in

Japanese and were furnished with special business cards with our names

printed in Japanese on the back.

‘On the day, we all stood in a perfect line at the entrance to the

meeting room, headed by our beaming agency chairman and ending up with

the humblest account executive. Unfortunately, there was one bit of

oriental culture we had overlooked - the Japanese are always introduced

starting with the lowliest person and ending with the most senior. They

couldn’t understand why a 50-year-old junior was leading the

presentation and a nervous 23-year-old chairman was spending his time

pouring tea for everyone.’

Nervousness and junior executives seem to go hand in hand. When they are

thrown into the highly charged atmosphere of a pitch situation with

little experience and even less commonsense, almost anything can happen.

Michael Finn, the managing director of Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters,

heard of an agency stripling brought in solely to press the button on

the video recorder. ‘He was smoking nervously at a boardroom table and

realised there were no ashtrays. He couldn’t work out what to do until

he thought he saw that the windows were open. He dived over, not

realising there was double glazing, headbutted the glass and knocked

himself out.’

Gerry Farrell, the joint creative director of the Leith Agency, protects

the guilty by claiming his tale of a junior account director may be

apocryphal. ‘It was his first pitch and he’d been brought in to hold up

one chart. He needed a pee but thought it would be the most appalling

thing if he went out of the room, so in the end he just urinated very

quietly where he sat and didn’t stand up until the clients had left.’ On

the other hand, Farrell has no such qualms about another bladder-control

anecdote. ‘When I was at Halls there was a guy called Richard Coburn who

was one of the directors. He was in a pitch when he felt a call of

nature coming on but as soon as he’d left the room he realised that he’d

walked into the broom cupboard. He decided that there was no way he

could go back into the room so he stayed there until the meeting was

over.’ The pitch continued, although from time to time the clients

expressed curiosity about Coburn’s whereabouts. The accident-prone Leith

agency also had a creative director who fell through a chair during a

pitch for TSB. In the normal world this would cause people to giggle,

but in this instance the clients simply looked on stony-faced.

Levity, it seems, is not the easiest thing to cultivate under the

laboratory conditions of an agency pitch and only the very brave attempt

it as a deliberate strategy. Hamish Pringle, the chairman of K

Advertising, had clearly not heard about the TSB syndrome when he

pitched for a software company called Ashton Tate. ‘We all wore special

‘gobbledegook’ T-shirts underneath our suits and at the appropriate

moment ripped off our shirts to reveal them,’ he recalls. Luckily,

Ashton Tate saw the funny side.

If such a simple stunt as this requires a flawless sense of theatre, the

agency that once pitched for Elida Faberge’s Lynx account must have had

bags of luvvieness. The brand manager, Jeremy Kanter, and colleagues

turned up at the agency to a meeting in a mock-up of a 16-year-old’s

bedroom. ‘Every detail was perfect down to the loud music, clothes

strewn over the floor, lava lamp, Oasis posters and even the porno mags

under the bed. To add to the authenticity a creative, dressed in boxer

shorts and a T-shirt, acted the part of a moody adolescent and was

thrown out of the room as we were shown in,’ Kanter explains. However,

the realism was dented when the presentation began: a bunch of grown-ups

in suits and an A3 flip chart is not standard kit for a teenager.

Some people say that the days of showbizzy pitching are over. Allen

Brady Marsh may have hired a brass band to march down the street playing

a jingle just because the head of Honda liked brass bands and Paul

Twivy, of Bates Dorland, may have hidden the London Symphony Orchestra

in the next room for the Ragu pitch, but aren’t these all stories from

bygone days? It appears not.

Only last year, Ben Langdon, the managing director of McCann-Erickson,

who was then the managing director of CDP, sang Gilbert and Sullivan’s

Modern Major General during a pitch for the National Provincial building

society. While Langdon had some professional music experience, his

agency backing chorus had no singing talent whatsoever - but he still

managed to carry it off. ‘There were 29 people in the room and they

loved it - but I would say that, wouldn’t I?’ he says. And they won it.


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