How Can Your Pitches Improve? Look to Being a Teacher.
June this year will go down as one of Experience for Mankind’s most impressive months. In two weeks we had ten response for proposals (“RFPs”). For those not in the advertising world we live in, these are for significant projects ranging upwards of seven figures with big business impact for both parties. Winning these set you up for months of confirmed work, building a bigger relationship with existing or new clients. In other words, you put your heart into RFPs for the win.
We soaked in the energy of new opportunity. Working through long nights, lots of tight resource planning, and many constructive discussions later we were all extremely proud of the outcomes. As we now learn of wins and losses, I’ve reflected on how they all went. I personally think back a year to now to see how things have changed. And to my surprise, I realized how much taking on a recent teaching role at the University of San Diego changed how I approached RFPs. It was a new gut-reaction to my pitch approach. From forming the presentation to the actual meeting, a few core principles influenced me for the better — way better.
Bring everyone to the same level.
When developing course materials, there’s this requirement of level-setting occurring. I have to make sure students have the basis to succeed from the onset of the class to be sure material is sticking until the very end. So often, we forget that our potential clients aren’t sitting in our hours-long meetings. They’re not collaborating on the approach. They’re not listening to the debates of how we’re arriving to a solution. In your presentation you have to let your thinking come through as much as the pitch idea itself. Level-set your clients with the days of work your team put in… build up to the idea. This way the client understands the perspective in which your team took to arrive there. Consider incorporating your overall positioning, audience considerations, laddering ideas to the brand, and what steps you took to arrive to the concept.
Mentally prepare the storyline.
As I prepare both classroom materials and RFP materials, I mentally talk through the story being told. Just like level-setting, as you’re building ideas there needs to a step-up progression all the way through. We build from this thought to this thought and so on until the totality of all topics hit the big idea being told. Check for disruptions or pitfalls. Did the story lose steam? Did the story lose its thread? If so, gut check where content may be missing from your presentation. Or re-formulate the slide positions to see if a different sequence of events can build the story better. As you build a mental progression through the RFP, this prepares you for client meetings to actually present — a few practice runs will quickly get you prepped.
Be involved to know all ins and outs.
Once I took on my first class, I didn’t realize I’d be in full control of the syllabus, course materials, and approach to the lessons. Though overwhelming, it was liberating to be sure topics were ones I was excited about and wanted to share with marketers. I knew every angle I could take each topic as well as the end goal to what I was presenting to. All too often in RFPs, those who present are separated from the process of the RFP. Business leads take on the presentation to the client while the core team hangs back. Don’t do this. Early in the process, define who will be the final presenters to the client. These individuals don’t necessarily need to be in the decision making process but they must be in meetings. During the pitch this allows for them to be able to answer deeper questions, frame the ideas in unique ways, and have historical reference points that may have not made it in the final presentation.
Guide the discussions through highlights.
When it comes to class, I keep my slides simple so I can be fluid with the discussion points. RFPs are often built the opposite — material is self-guided in order for the client to evaluate if you are a good fit for next steps. This sometimes creates a bulky presentation for meetings. Do your best to avoid reading the RFP. They already did this. You need to bubble up the important points and make your time together valuable. Considering you likely only have an hour, add color to where the presentation may feel flat and bring those behind-the-scenes insights you gathered through the process into the conversation.
Gauge audience interest, have a conversation.
I love when students show engagement in a topic. Questions bubble up that I totally did not plan. We banter back-and-forth on a new idea, and I typically take notes to make an update for future classes. We digress for a few moments and try to bring things back on track when the timing feels right. Be comfortable with reading a room and doing the same in RFPs. Did you see physical reactions? Respond to them. Ask questions back to your client to dig a little deeper. Pause at points in your presentation to be sure that everyone is on the same page. Or my favorite — request what they’d like to review next. This isn’t your time to showboat, but their time to evaluate your company. Be sure that they are learning all the information they need to make a smart decision on your capabilities.
Carry a passionate demeanor.
This was the biggest proud moment in my recent student evaluation forms. My students said it was easy to stay focused in class because I was passionate to what I was speaking to. I realized passionate speaking comes from the combination of knowing what you’re talking about and believing what you’re speaking to. Expertise and confidence. If you don’t believe in the concepts your team has developed for the RFP, you will fall flat in the presentation. If you didn’t work alongside your team to get to know the totality of the concepts, you will fall flat in the presentation. Guaranteed the client will see through you. Get your rest and prepare for the presentation to make sure you’re prepared to give your all. Passion is easier given when you’re primed to do so.
I currently teach for the University of San Diego Professional and Continuing Education program, which you can join me. I’m also pitching left and right for the creative agency Experiences for Mankind as Director of Client Services. We value self-reflection and evaluate processes we move through daily.