The World: How to make your multinational pitch a success

Cleve Langton explains how to address the crucial, but often neglected, differences between global and domestic pitches.

Multinational pitches are insidious creatures that appear to share the same issues and challenges as single-country, single-office pursuits. However, the added overlay of different cultural nuances, different interpretations and a lot of below-the-surface issues add unforeseen, often pitch-killing, complications.

Technology and globalisation have not changed the fundamental challenges in multinational reviews. E-mail, jpegs, mpegs and FTP sites have facilitated the flow of information, but the goal of reaching consensus is as challenging as ever.

English has become the common language for all multinational business. But it's also true that a common language gives the players on a team a false sense of commonality and gives corporate agency management a false sense of security. Common language eases communication, but doesn't necessarily facilitate building consensus.

Meanwhile, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when working on a regional or a global pitch. One is that everything takes three times as long as a single-country pitch. The obvious factor is the difficulty that different time zones create, but that's only one of many surface issues.

Another is that everything costs more than you think and more than "domestic logic" would ever indicate. Cost for travel is hard to pin down and is, therefore, frequently under-budgeted. Multi-country research is time consuming and the cost is frequently underestimated.

Moreover, communicating in what is a second language for many members of the team creates subtle problems that can lead to major issues. Many of the participants bluff their way through conversations and written communication. If the input is misinterpreted, the outcome is discordant at best - and all too often a disaster.

Cultural nuances can be as tricky as second language issues. Anyone who has worked with counterparts in Asia, particularly Japan, has experienced this. "Yes" doesn't necessarily mean that they agree; it simply means that they hear you. A "yes" can be as far away from agreement and consensus as an emphatic "no" can be in Europe or the US.

And don't assume compliance or commitment just because all offices in a pitch are part of the same network. Multinational prospects that are "to kill for" clients in some markets, are to "run away from" burdens in other markets. Frequently, multinational accounts compensate major markets well, while they under-compensate smaller service markets. Savvy local managers know this and frequently shy away from the necessary participation in multinational pitches.

Remember that nothing replaces personal contact during the pitch process. Don't ever think that phone or e-mail builds team-spirit or bonding. Budget for a kick-off meeting at the start of the pitch, and at least one interim meeting during the pitch process, where the key players get together. This includes at least one bonding dinner or occasion where the players get to know each other as people - not just for their role in the pitch.

For the final presentation, never allow the participants to fly in the night before. Allow at least one full day to rehearse and to get over jet lag. No less than three full rehearsals prior to the presentation are critical and must be non-negotiable terms of joining the team.

The lowest common denominator is your biggest enemy. The wear-down factor in multinational pitches is very real and insidious. In an effort to reach consensus, the players unwittingly accept dilution. Getting it over frequently outweighs getting it done right.

Every multinational pitch is a mix of a large number of egos and points of view. There has to be a worldwide "Pitch Captain", who is the guardian of quality and is the person who sets the worldwide direction. All the players also have to agree upon one person who will ultimately call the shots. This includes deciding who will be in the final pitch, who will be bounced out, and what content stays and what goes.

Every successful pitch is multi-disciplinary. Achieving seamless integration has to be standard operating procedure and part of the team DNA. But managing a multi-disciplinary team also adds to the complexity. The various disciplines have to shed their company names and adopt the team identity. The successful pitch team looks and performs like "Team XYZ", not company "X" plus company "Y" plus company "Z".

The successful domestic pitch leader may not be a successful global pitch leader. Knowing how to win a pitch is not enough. Being internationally savvy must be the starting point. Knowing how to inspire an international team and to create and nurture team spirit is as important as being pitch savvy. Thinking that a strong country leader will necessarily be a successful global leader is a fallacy and is frequently a global pitch killer.

Treat a multinational pitch as a different animal than a domestic pitch or it will invariably come back to bite you - financially and emotionally. There is nothing more complex and demanding than a multinational pitch, but nothing more rewarding and morale-building than a multinational win.

- Cleve Langton is the director of worldwide business development for DDB Worldwide.