Sorry, but pitches still don’t exist
by Bea Aarnoutse
Over the intervening period, we’ve become a widely praised and award-winning agency for communication strategies for change programmes, for concepts, for integrated execution, for events, for campaigns, for films, magazines and for social platforms. The count now stands at over 100 nominations and awards over the last 10 years. Why 10 years and not 16? Because we didn’t compete for the first five years – another of our principles, but one we dropped when it became clear how much winning awards means to our clients. Today, awards are part of our strategy for raising internal and employer branding to a higher level among our clients.
Pitches, however, still don’t exist as far as we are concerned.
So why do we win so many awards? Because we come up with distinctive strategies, concepts and tools. And what makes them distinctive is the fact they are based on a clear communication strategy. Because they also form part of a concept that is always broader than a specific tool or channel. And because the tools are created by a mix of experienced and less experienced – but very eager – professionals. Good people who are paid well, something I mention because this requires decent budgets.
So, the answer to the question of why we win so many prizes is ‘customised solutions’, followed, if possible, by yet more customised solutions. Off-the-peg? One size fits all? Never. And how do create something that is tailor-made? By understanding exactly what question the client is asking, the needs of the sender and the perception of the recipient. It sounds simple, but it demands courage and perseverance on the part of the client. And trust in the creators and their professionalism. It also demands collaboration and a willingness to invest in each other.
If you read this and think, ‘there’s some truth in that’, then you are one of our potential clients. Because our clients don’t come with a question about a specific tool, with specs and guidelines, or a price per page, etc; our clients ask a question. A communication question or an HR one. In our dreams, that is. Because the reality is that the phone rings a lot – and half the time the question is about tools. Plus that there’s going to be a pitch and do we want to be part of it, how do we respond? We explain the above and say we treat every pitch as a request for advice. We then explain that we charge for advice – but that we also commit time and resources. We also explain that we never present creative work without it being part of a concept, because we believe that you first need a concept before moving onto creative work, and that concepts are something you create with a client.
What does this approach achieve? That three out of four questions never advance beyond the first call. But also that one out of every four questions are answered with good, sharp advice. And that of every five questions we answer, one leads to a new question that is no longer about tools, but about the underlying issue. Then we form a partnership with the client. A partnership that often lasts years and which, yes, produces all those prizes.
My advice is to keep on calling. Because every 20 calls result in at least one new, long-term client, and the profession gets innovative, motivating and prize-winning work in return.
Bea Aarnoutse is strategy director & partner at PROOF