Navigating the Pitch Process: Tips for Success in PPC

Measurably Daring™

By John Barham


For some it can’t come quick enough, while for others it’s a day they hope never arrives. Whichever group you fall into there are some basic lessons that will help improve your ability to prepare, and ultimately deliver, a winning PPC pitch.

It’s very easy to become unstuck in the build-up to pitches, and this will be noticeable in the final presentation. The process is one of extreme pressure (more than most client requests you’ll ever have to deal with) but at the same time it gives you the opportunity to strategically review the issues of new clients or verticals. I’ve never worked on a pitch that wasn’t in some way highly rewarding.

So how do you ensure that you and your company make the most of the opportunity to sell yourself to prospective clients? How do you put the bedrock in place to demonstrate your expertise, confidence and passion? I try to follow the below…

Don’t be afraid of saying no to a brief

Not very often, but sometimes, you will get a brief in from a potential client that you feel you should politely decline. This could be for a multitude of reasons, from your own resource, to financial agreements, recognition that you couldn’t improve on their current activity, an overlap with existing client base or even a lack of belief in their brand.

If you are not comfortable from the outset then this will percolate down through everything that you put into the subsequent documentation and actual pitch. I’ve been in this situation and the results can be spectacularly disastrous. You’ve fundamentally wasted the time of both the client and yourself. Not to mention you may actually win some business that your company does not want!

Clarity of thought and the bigger picture

The most important lesson I’ve learnt from pitching is that you absolutely must put in the time at the outset to understand exactly what is being asked of you in the brief, the client’s business and vertical, as well as the consumer they are looking to target. Failing to do so will lead to a disjointed and unclear pitch, and you will not convince the client that you are able to fulfil their objectives.

Themes and strategy

The above research should guide the overall approach of the pitch. If they are an established national business in a high-CPC vertical looking for efficiencies or a new company looking for rapid growth, the theme of your pitch, and the strategies you select, will need to clearly reflect this. This is their pitch, not an opportunity to list every aspect of PPC that your company has ever come across, and so should be completely tailored to their needs.

Ensure everyone knows what they are preparing

More often than not the pitch process will involve multiple people on your side. This re-emphasises the need to take stock at the beginning of the response to ensure that everyone is aware of the end goal and can work towards this. Simply listing all tasks and assigning them removes confusion, but clearly defining the extent of the work is paramount.

Pitch preparation can at times be a bottomless pit of resource if too much time is spent on the minute detail that has no bearing on the final presentation. For PPC especially this can be a very real problem due to the level and variety of data we have available to us.

Most importantly, existing clients always have to come first and sometimes working on a pitch can pull staff off their accounts to an unacceptable level.

Prioritisation of your points

So now we’ve got to the stage of actually planning your slides. In my opinion it’s always important to decide what the absolute key take-outs are; if you could only talk about three things in the pitch then what would they be?

If your audience has sat through multiple pitches in a short period of time you need to make sure their brief is answered and your key messages are delivered succinctly enough to stand out and be remembered.

What is each slide saying?

If I launch myself into preparing slides without standing back and deciding what needs to be communicated then I often find that I’ve created slides that serve little or no purpose. By listing and prioritising your subjects, and assigning a slide for each, you ensure that every slide you create is relevant.

Working to the golden rule that each slide should have three spoken sentences and last around two minutes, you will quickly cut out the unnecessary conversational baggage that can easily find its way into a pitch.

Practise and time yourself

I hate this but it has to happen. Physically talking through your presentation in front of people means that you can identify where it doesn’t flow or loses momentum, tweaking where necessary.

Learn the order of the slides, as there’s nothing worse than a five second pause in the middle of a pitch as you readjust. You never know when a projector or laptop might fail and you have to carry on regardless. Focus on the sections you are least confident with to ensure a consistent level of delivery.

Know your audience

It’s very unusual to go into a pitch without knowing the names of those attending from the client. Find out their current job role and history. LinkedIn is invaluable for this. The classic pitfall is openly criticising the work of someone in the room. Remember that the current in-house search specialist will probably have a large say in who wins the pitch and so chastising their previous choice of agency and activity will win you no friends.

Beyond this it’s important to remember that PPC, and digital marketing in general, is a technical and acronym-ridden industry. Acknowledge the level of knowledge in the room.

Think of questions

This is two-pronged. There’s always a Q&A section, or questions throughout, so part of your preparation should include listing potential questions that you think will arise. Often the most impressive sections of a pitch are instant and well thought out responses to queries, demonstrating a knowledge and confidence beyond the detail of the slides.

Secondly, always have a list of questions that you want to ask the client. This shows eagerness and further emphasises the fact that you are interested in learning more about their business.

So that’s it, you should be as prepared as you can be and have the foundations for a successful pitch. Now all you have to do is present the thing…