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What was your best pitch?

I’m not sure we could all get away with it, storming off from a business meeting in a huff and then being pursued to return and make a presentation – and still end up winning the contract.

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?


12 Comments

  1. Todd Beardsley

    Organized lying? Well I’m not sure if calling a lie an “inaccuracy” holds water. That seems very unethical. I agree with you; that whole concept makes me uncomfortable too.

  2. electro-kevin

    I heard of a wonderful job interview with a chap applying for a job at Eurostar. He worked with me at Watford as a railway guard and was tri-lingual (incl French & Italian) and he’d applied for a job as a Train Manager which involves frontline customer service:

    One of the interviewers asked, “Is there anyone you wouldn’t be prepared to work with ?” they meant, of course, to establish any prejudice within him. He replied, “Pavaroti.” They looked at him totally perplexed and said “Pavaroti ? Why ever not ?” to which he answered, “Because I’d hate to hear him use a whistle when I know he can sing so well.”

  3. I have nothing to pitch. Just enjoyed reading of Ellee’s [and others] machinations and the limp handshakes.

  4. It was just the enthusiasm for a certain place inspired him to do really well in a creative project at school – and this helped us suggest an ‘inspirations’ competition for people of all ages, running through art, poetry and photography. It has just been launched with local radio and newspaper coverage and lots of work still to do!

    Have a great evening,
    best wishes
    Linda

  5. Almost every pitch I do goes wrong Ellee and that is bound to be the way. I have come to the conclusion that it is not what you say so much as who people think you are .
    When they think you are helping them they are all ears but when they think you are selling to them there us nothing you can do.

    We find that moving from established client is the only way as people grow more and more cynical about any cold contacts

    In interviews I haven’t done many but I did go for a job at a major Broker large enough to have a snotty HR person in the way. She asked me a load if stupid questions and I said

    “Look why don’t you just tell me what you want and I`ll tell you if I can do it . I `m not so interested as to make it worth lying ”

    Of course I had just told her that her job was a waste if time and went no further. The truth is i do think that HR departments are often a waste of time and money. Should have kept it to myself though

  6. Linda, That’s exactly what the book says, that simplicity is the key. I would be interested to know what info you gleaned from the 8-year-old that was so effective.

    I agree with Lee too about having belief in the product, otherwise how can you be passionate about it, and passion is also a major key to success.

  7. I also tried and failed to get a trainee’s job at the Post & Echo!

    My most elaborate pitch seemed a lovely idea – we got various groups of people to pose with placards or in T-shirts to say they were “passionate about ‘x'” (with x being the name of the client and passionate the name of our company…) We got to the presentation and were told that we had the “strongest team” but missed out as the other company had an idea that was liked more for a campaign. Oh okay it was better 🙂 It was a great lesson to us not to get so worked up about the actual pitch and concentrate on what we would be asked to do!

    Every now and again, when faced with a potential client, my colleagues see me preparing to mumble something about T-shirts and I am told a resounding no 🙂

    Recently we pitched to help a tourism assocation promote an area, we took our inspiration partly from a piece of homework by my business partner’s eight-year-old son. That worked and showed as opposed to the over ambitious example above, that sometimes simplicity is key.

  8. Throughout the years, I’ve had to “pitch” quite a few various ‘products’…some in the fashion industry and some in the hospitality industry…and a few in the real estate industry.

    The best method is to always be truthful, to believe in the product. Personally, I can’t ‘pitch’ something I do not believe in. I’ve had to many times, stand up behind a podium, with knees knocking to give my ‘spiel’…always after the first few minutes, I gained confidence in myself and my abilities, because I had confidence in the product I was ‘selling’.

    That, I believe, is the only way to pitch.

    Ellee…when you get a spare moment, have a look at “Fauxnews” a new link I’ve listed in my blog, beneath “Wino’s Blog”. Wino…aka Don and I have just set it up as a bit of extraneous fun. My goodness…I think I’m ‘pitching’! 😉

  9. Any pitch that involves me producing long documents is doomed to fail.

  10. seems strange I just can’t think of any. Although as an auctioneer I guess I am “pitching” all the time!

  11. Chris, I love hearing stories like this, when you lose out on something you think is important, then something better is around the corner. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Maybe fate lends a hand too. And interviews do count as pitches in the book, btw.

  12. Not a pitch as such, but I do recall one terrible interview which paid off in the long run.
    I once went for a group interview to be a graduate trainee reporter at the Liverpool Echo. I took the view that one of the things they would be testing (as it was a group) was how well we could get on as a group, encourage others to speak and show how well we could elicit answers and listen. I bombed, and knew it long before the end. It’s the only time I could confidently thank the panel for their time knowing that it would be the last time we met.
    Fortunately, it gave me such a kick up the backside that three days later, in an interview for a place on a post-graduate journalism course, I took no chances and was given a place on the day.
    Within 18 months, I was working as a trainee reporter inside the Post and Echo building in Liverpool, not for the Echo but for the Press Association, which had a desk there. That was a job I could only have got with the post-grad certificate under my belt.
    That disastrous interview was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time.

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