Pitch perfect? How going solo changed my tune

By Andy Culbert, Co-founder and Creative Director of MERó

As a freelancer I used to relish pitch work. Pitches offered an opportunity to be truly creative, a chance to be led by big ideas and deliver something fresh and new. I enjoyed the all-hands-on-deck mentality and the thrill of being part of a team working under pressure. I often felt that my best work came out of this environment. Compared to day-to-day client briefs pitches were liberating and exciting, but since establishing my own agency my viewpoint has changed.

These days pitches come with a different kind of pressure. Back when I was freelancing I knew the whole process was expensive and competitive. Now that I’m leading my own agency I am very conscious of the risks, in particular the impact a loss can have on the morale of our team and the health of our finances. With this in mind we have decided to take pitching into our own hands.

Edenspiekermann are an agency I’ve admired for a long time. They have a unique standpoint on pitching:

“Our strategic and creative resources are our most valuable assets. We cannot afford to give them away for free. We also know (from decades of experience) that the best work happens in a committed relationship. We therefore no longer take part in unpaid pitches…What we do offer for free to potential clients is a strategic analysis and a creative debrief.”

This position is brave and admirable, but I know that from time to time pitching will be an important way for MERó to grow as an agency.

At MERó we have taken the decision to pitch actively rather than passively. This means that we generate our own pitches without invitation and take ideas to clients we are passionate about working with. Pitching this way means we take the process into our own hands and create opportunities where they may not have existed before.

So far we’ve found this approach to be successful. We take the time to research a client, sometimes even bringing them a solution to a problem they didn’t realise they had. Pre-empting pitches means we are a step ahead of our clients and two steps ahead of competitor agencies.

This active approach works for us creatively and financially, minimising the risks usually associated. Work begins when we are inspired by an idea that we are able to follow through. We can control how much time is dedicated to a pitch, and we begin work when it makes sense for us rather than responding to a client schedule. We only take on a pitch when the studio is healthy and happy, rather than trying to cram in an RFP around existing client work.

From time to time we will respond to an open brief. In this instance we have created a system which means that we take on pitch work mindfully. We use a scorecard to value a pitch, rating the project on a series of factors from the creative potential to the financial impact on the business. We evaluate the results together, and as a team we decide whether or not to proceed.

Whether it is responsive or self-generated, for me the most important thing is that a pitch has a positive impact on our team. My priority is always to maintain a happy studio and avoid pitch fatigue (beautifully illustrated in This Advertising Life).

At MERó we only go in for a pitch if it will challenge the studio creatively and bring everybody closer together. Pitching is a chance to expand and strengthen what we do, and putting the team at the heart of the process means that whether or not the client like our ideas, we win every time.

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