High Ticket Pitching

The counterintuitive and highly effective pitching methodology to winning six and seven-figure projects.

By now it’s a sore subject: pitching (including RFPs and RFQs) is an outmoded and broken way to select a creative firm. Everyone in the industry knows it.

Once a client from Discovery Channel called to invite my agency into a $400,000 rebrand pitch (which we subsequently won, by the way) when he flatly admitted to me:

“Yeah, I know. Pitching is so 1997. But that’s how they (the client) want to do it.”

Whether you like it or not, pitching is here to stay. So what are we creative firms going to do about it?

Required Reading: “It’s Not What You Pitch, It’s How”

When it comes to pitching, you might believe that the firm which presents the best creative is awarded the pitch. Unfortunately, that is a naïve view. So before you step up your game to pitch like an expert, first read my RevThinking article series, It’s Not WHAT You Pitch, It’s HOW.

Pitching Large Projects

In the aforementioned article, we learned that clients make their decision to award based on trust, confidence and, lastly, creative.

But when budgets get larger, i.e. six or seven figures, the game shifts. The risks get bigger for you and the client. So where the Eight Hows of Pitching™ are perfect for pitching everyday projects, when the stakes get large you should be ready to employ the strategy outlined here which I call High Ticket Pitching.

Out With the Old

First off, I implore you to ignore the current conventional wisdom out there which focuses on politeness, such as playing by the rules, being detailed and thorough, showing patience, etc. The conventional wisdom contains very little wisdom.

Although well-intended, that advice ignores the real problem: pitching takes advantage of your natural human instincts (read: fears) which in turn, puts you and your firm in a bad position. You come off as a lowly order-taker rather than a highly sought-after expert.

Follow the conventional wisdom and you will lose often… and lose much in the process. I know because I’ve been there.

And In With the New

Like you, I hate pitching. It’s so risky. And the larger the project is, the larger your pitch and investment.

About ten years ago, I committed myself to developing a new approach to the pitch process. The resulting High Ticket Pitching is a unique synthesis of my decade of trial-and-error experience merged with the teachings of Blair Enns, David C. Baker and many fellow owners at top studios and agencies.

Of all my secrets to running a successful creative firm, High Ticket Pitching approach is among the greatest.

When You Do Lose, Lose Less

Employing this strategy, I’ve seen firms’ odds of winning increase dramatically. But even when firms lose, they lose less.

What I mean by this is, imagine in the midst of lengthy pitch if you notice red flags telling you your firm is going to lose – so you bow out early. This move would save you a fortune in wasted time, energy and money.

“Losing less” is about losing less frequently, but also about cutting your losses.

The Three Rules of the Expert Pitch Methodology™

Before we dive into this expert approach, a word of warning: you may be excited to learn how this approach can empower you to beat the system, it will require you to retrain your instincts. What I am about to suggest will feel scary, even reckless.

I’ve guided many studios and production companies – sometimes kicking and screaming – through this approach. It goes against human nature. It takes retraining your brain. But it works…

Rule #1: Change Your Mindset

First, you will need to change your mindset: pitching is NOT your firm providing a service. Like my good friend Alberto Scirocco of studio Leftchannel says, “It’s more like dating.” Instead of playing by The Old Rules of Pitching, take a deep breath and get ready to embrace The New Rules of Pitching:

THE OLD RULES OF PITCHING
THE NEW RULES OF PITCHING

• Be nice and flexible
• Be nice but inflexible

• Be accommodating
• Be restricted by ‘policies’

• Over deliver
• Under promise

• Show the client how badly you want the project
• Manipulate the client to reveal how badly they want you

Rule #2: Create Policies

Second, define the rules of engagement so your client is reminded throughout the process that you are an expert firm and as such, you are in high demand. You will need to put two policies (which you can waive later if needed) into place:

Policy #1: Your firm requires an ‘industry-standard pitch fee.’

Policy #2: Your firm requires your pitch be presented in person, to the decision maker(s).

Rule #3: Make The Client Break Their Own Rules

Throughout the pitch process, you are going to cause your client to break his own rules. Why? Because every time you push back and he in turn concedes, the client is secretly telling you something very, very important:

Client: “Okay, I will go along with this since you are our top pick to win. Please don’t drop out of this pitch.”

If, in the midst of the pitch your client is unwilling to break – or even bend – one of his own rules, he is secretly telling you something very, very important:

Client: “We don’t care if you drop out of this pitch. You weren’t going to win anyways.”

If and when the “You aren’t going to win” red flag surfaces, it may be hard to admit but your firm isn’t going to win. It’s time for you to gracefully bow out. And in so doing, save your firm tons of wasted time, money and energy. Later you’ll be glad you cut your losses.

Navigating – and Derailing – the Pitch Process

The pitch process unfolds in three stages: 1. Invitation, 2. Development and 3. Presentation. The three keys will guide you throughout this process. Here is what it looks like.

1. The Invitation

When the client first calls you to invite your firm into a pitch, apply the new mindset right from the start. (IMPORTANT: never accept an invitation to pitch from a client with whom you have never worked!) Start gently raising objections. Remember, at this stage the client needs your expertise much more than you need his risky pitch. If you play your cards right, the client will start selling you, rather than the other way around. With a big smile on your face, say:

You: “A pitch? It sounds exciting but I have to tell you, we rarely jump into competitive pitches.”

You: “Tell me why you think our firm is a good fit?”

You: “Our firm has a policy that we don’t do work for free. Is there an industry standard pitch fee?”

You: “We are really busy right now. But go ahead and send me the details. We will take a look at it.”

In a pitch, the client needs your expertise much more than you need his risky pitch. Click To Tweet

If you accept the invitation to pitch, now you will raise even more objections (whether true or not) to see if the client will break their own rules. Take careful note of the client’s responses to:

You: “We are really excited to jump into this pitch! We have a few policies to make you aware of…”

“Our current clients are our #1 priority, so if our workload shifts unexpectedly we may have to drop out of this pitch. Understood?”

“The pitch fee of $x,xxx is less than standard. Assuming you need to own the rights to whatever we pitch, we will need a fee of at least $X,XXX.”

“We looked at the deliverables required in the pitch. A, B and C are unnecessary so we won’t be including them.”

“The pitch deadline is (date) but we are just too busy. The soonest we can present our pitch is (later date). Let us know if that will work.”

“Our firm’s policy requires we present our creative in person to the decision maker. That won’t be a problem, right?”

You may raise these objections over the course of several conversations. Stay firm in your resolve. If they refuse, note the red flag and consider dropping out gracefully. But they go along and break their own rules, the client is secretly telling you:

Client: “Okay, I will go along with this since you are our top pick to win. Please don’t drop out of this pitch.”

2. Development Phase

While your team is developing all the amazing creative for your presentation, your job is to derail the pitch process by gaining insider access, which goes something like this:

You: “Our pitch is coming along great! We are sharing some sneak peeks so we can confirm we’re on the right track. Let’s collaborate!”

Some clients will balk at your overture because they fear this special access is giving your firm an unfair advantage (since the other firms are likely developing their creative in a vacuum). Ignore their concerns and overcome their worries with relentless – and shrewd – enthusiasm. Remember, your client has several people working on this project. If your competition gains the inside track instead of you, you will lose.

'Someone almost always has the inside track. If it’s not your firm, it’s another and the odds are against you.' - Blair Enns

GAC-pitch-development

Find a way, somehow, someway, to get inside and get a conversation started with someone. Do this continually throughout the pitch process.

3. The Pitch Presentation

Because the client broke his own rules by allowing you to move the pitch deadline, guess what? Your firm is the last to present. Which is exactly what you want.

And because your client conceded to your “We only present in person” policy, you and your team travel to the client’s offices to pitch your creative in person. Why? Because gaining your client’s trust is even more important than the quality of your creative.

Implementing the Methodology

This process may seem counterintuitive and complex, but anything worth having comes with some kind of fight. And practice makes perfect. Ultimately, the question is, how badly do you want to win?

Once you master the mindset, you will no longer feel powerless in the pitch process. As you regain your sense of power, your confidence will soar. And at the end of the day, confidence is the #1 thing you, as an entrepreneur, offer your clients.

When your firm faces its next big risky pitch and you still lack confidence in applying the High Ticket Pitching, contact me. I will gladly guide you through the process. The risks – and potential rewards – are enormous.

I love helping firms win more while losing less. Let’s beat the system and together make our industry stronger.

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