6 mistakes that murder your PR pitch

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How to fail at pitching…

The email pings into your inbox. You’ve been shortlisted. Over the last few months, you’ve been liaising with an in-house PR team about their needs, and they’re finally ready to go ahead with the tender. Responding to a PR agency tender can be time consuming, and pitching it can be intimidating – but it is also a massive opportunity to prove yourself at your agency.

Winning business out of nowhere like that is no easy task.

Four well-known agencies prepared pitches for an organisation I consult with recently, and I managed the tender process. I was shocked by some of the basics mistakes these internationally-recognised Public Relations companies were making.

Here are some surefire ways to get yourself relegated from a PR agency tender.

  1. Fail to prepare…

    Prepare to fail. This shouldn’t need saying, but it does. An agency that is often cited in the top 10 globally fundamentally misunderstood our business, mixing it up with a separate but related one. Looking back on the detailed briefing document I prepared, I saw that there was some ambiguity. Was it my fault? No. Had the agency in question had a proper look at the company’s website,  recent press releases or bylines, their mistake would have become clear. It seemed this global heavy-hitter felt there was no need to do any research beyond the document prepared for them, and that’s a big black mark.

  2. Death by Powerpoint

    During this recent tender, every single agency that was shortlisted chose Powerpoint as their tool of choice. Public Relations requires creativity and innovation, and this is just the opposite – yawn-inducing and monotonous. I began to dread the decks. I understand the practical reasons why Powerpoint is so ubiquitous, but if you want your presentation to stand out from the competition, try something different. Here are some alternative ideas. If you really must use a deck, make sure it’s short and visually appealing.

  3. Gone in 60 minutes

    If you are given an hour to pitch, pitch for an hour. Not 20 minutes, not 90 minutes. An hour. If you’ve got 83 slides, you’re not going to get through them all in time. Ditch them. It doesn’t say much for your time management skills if you can’t even estimate how long your pitch is going to take correctly. I’m impatient. And I had six questions I wanted to ask you, but that’s not going to happen now because you ate up all of our allocated Q&A time with your extended pitch.

  4. Manners, darling

    Do you really need to send three or four people to the pitch? Maybe. But if you’re going to send a whole gaggle of  people along to pitch, mind your manners. Stop interrupting each other and talking over each other. Let the less experienced members of the team field some of the questions (we all know you Directors aren’t the ones I’m going to be on the phone with day to day anyway). Take it in turns to respond to questions, and invite other members of your team to speak: “Do you have anything to add, Amy?” This is basic.

  5. So, specifically…

    We know that no matter what agency we appoint, certain things will happen. They will create content, prepare and distribute press releases, manage media relations for us and so on. Generic information on how these processes are handled is not all that important. Get specific. What publications do you think we would be perfect for? What kinds of campaigns do you think we should be doing? How exactly will you help us reach our key audiences? It’s all very well to point to successes you’ve had with other clients, but we want to know what your plans are for us.

  6. Look the part

    Public Relations is sometimes unfairly seen as a fickle industry. While that’s not in fact the case, you will be representing my company at a high level and in places where image matters. Comb your hair, for crying out loud. Come suited and booted. If you’re pitching for an account worth €200,000 a year to your company, it’s worth taking the time to put in an extra bit of effort – even if the company you’re pitching to has a more casual philosophy.

Do you work in-house, with an agency or as a consultant? What are your thoughts on managing a PR agency tender? Leave a comment below!

Katie Harrington is a Communications and Content Strategist based in Dublin, Ireland. Her book, Strategic Communications: The Science Behind the Art launched in November 2016. Katie has worked with global brands including EY (Ernst & Young) Emirates Airline and Allianz, as well as the Irish parliament and Qatar’s semi-government oil and gas company Nakilat. Follow her on LinkedIn or follow her on Facebook for more articles.

14 thoughts on “6 mistakes that murder your PR pitch

  1. Her Own Beat says:

    These are great tips!It can be extremely stressful making pitches, and sometimes you wonder where you went wrong. These are great to remember in the future, especially the use of PowerPoint.

  2. Peter Baker says:

    If you take colleagues to the pitch with you advise the selection panel “This is the team that will be working for you” and tell them the role that each wil be playing. Each team member can then outline their expertise and experience.

  3. Alex Lacey says:

    Agree with much of what you say here but a couple of pieces I would challenge and I think you’ve missed the most important aspect of all:

    Firstly, the whole 60 minute thing. It’s fair to want to have 60 minutes of presenting done, but this doesn’t exactly make room for interaction, expansion and development of the relationship that should be growing. The best relationship with an agency is one that both parties find interesting and mutually beneficial. If this can happen at a pitch level, it makes everything all the better. It’s never going to happen if you limit something to 60 minutes with no room for manoeuvre.

    I also have to challenge the idea of giving specifics in a pitch scenario. I like people to show and reflect their ability to think through an idea from a strategic and tactical perspective, as well as showing creativity. However, I wouldn’t expect an agency to come in with a full blown plan of: here’s what’s next on your list. They don’t know my business properly yet and I wouldn’t expect them to. That’s what the next stage of the relationship is about surely?

    So what’s been missed? Enthusiasm! A team can know what they’re doing, have some great ideas and be creative, but if they’re not interested they’re never going to do the work very well. If they’re enthusiastic passionate and genuinely involved in what’s going on, you’re likely to get better results and even a certain level of overservice on purpose.

  4. Claire Thompson says:

    I really laughed reading this. It so my mirrors my own inhouse experience with agencies. The worst was when they sent a gaggle of heavy hitters to try and ‘friend’ me in advance, get the shortlist, and then sent their regional office (which was further away than the London one I’d been talking with) to pitch. One guy really hadn’t brushed his hair, and it was really clear that despite being a well funded industry upstart, with seven international offices and at the leading edge of our industry, half an hour from London, in their eyes we were provincial. I’ve rarely felt so insulted. I have a feeling that these were the people who uttered the immortal words that PR’s not a people industry…

  5. Chris Lawrance says:

    Totally agree with all of this and always surprises me how some companies get it so wrong. One other point I would add is build chemistry from the word go before you pitch. Whether I was on agency or client side I would welcome this approach.

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