Roger Mavity did this, it’s one of the anecdotes included in a book he has co-written with Stephen Bayley, called Lif’e's A Pitch, highlighted in the chapter on the power of passion in business, the need for boldness and self-belief.
His advertising agency was pitching for a contract with the Mauritius Tourist Office, only he thought it was too small a deal and was not particularly interested and did not like being inconvenienced by them. On the other hand, they were pleased to find someone with the courage to stand up to them. I’m not sure the smaller guys would get away with doing the same thing, but his agency obviously came up trumps as it later won them a bundle of awards.
I felt uncomfortable with the chapter entitled Organized lying (Harold Wilson’s definition of public relations) and a hot PR topic at the moment. Not sure that I agree with the essence of their differentiation between lying and inaccuracies – that lying suggests meaningful artifice, while inaccuracy suggests a less attractive carelessness.
However, I particularly enjoyed their interpretation on past think leaders on pitching, especially Niccolo Machiavelli, who the book is dedicated to. In fact, why not discover how Machiavellian you are from this quiz; my answer was “somewhat” Machiavellian.
The book certainly has the Conran look about it, no surprises there as Mavity is the Chief Exec of Conran Holdings. It is red and square and chunky and will stand out a mile on any bookshelf. And Bayley has written about the book in today’s Observer.
The book made me think about my pitching skills, so I’m going to describe a couple of my favourite pitching moments to you. The first was when I was one of 10 people shortlisted as Robert Sturdy’s press officer, I really wanted the job and was determined that he would remember me following my interview, that I would not be instantly forgotten. I showed him copies of my press releases and how they had been used virtually word for word in newspaper reports, and I talked and talked and talked. At the end of the interview, he told me that up until seeing me, he had had a shortlist of two, but now it was three. I was totally euphoric, and of course, I got the job, and also now campaign for his son Julian too.
And it also reminded me of when I didn’t get a job I desperately wanted, but how I turned that negative into a positive. I had applied to be part-time regional press officer for the CPRE. The pay was a pittance and they sent three people from their London headquarters to give short-listed applicants a test, which was a piece of cake. At the end of the day, they offered the post to someone else on the grounds that I did not have campaigning experience, which was true at that time.
Shortly afterwards, I was offered a job to promote public consultation with householders in Cambridgeshire about their future waste strategy, and later to promote recycling in the Eastern Region for the local authorities. I then read that Prunella Scales, as president of the CPRE, was meeting local members in my area.
I was really curious to see who had been appointed to the job I had wanted so badly, so I engineered an invitation for myself and my lovely new boss Bernard Warr to meet with Prunella and talk about recycling, which I knew from my research was a passion of hers.
I dressed up to the nines and introduced myself to the guy who was offered the CPRE press officer job. He had the limpest handshake ever. One of the women who had interviewed me was also there and I gave her a nice big smile and introduced her to Bernard.
Not only did Bernard and I get a great pic with Prunella and quotes from her for a press release, but she invited me to join her and her husband, the great Timothy West, for drinks later that evening after her performance at a play in Cambridge, which I did.
Then a few months later she agreed to launch a recycling roadshow in Cambridgeshire free of charge to promote my recycling roadshow. Bernard was very, very chuffed, you can see him in the pic with Prunella. I hope Bayley and Mavity would approve of my tactics. I did get a great deal of satisfaction from this - and I noticed that the CPRE job was re-advertised within a year.
What were your best or most disastrous pitches, do you have any advice to offer on this?