Any Room in the Cheap Seats?

Published: Monday 10th March 2014

There are numerous tales of pitch theatre, many of which have now run into urban legend, so it’s hard to know if they’re completely true.  I have a couple of favourites.

First was the pitch for British Airways by the Saatchi brothers. They recreated, at presumably great expense, a section of a BA plane in the office and presented as though they were mid-flight.  At the end of the presentation they told the clients that if they reached under their seat they would find a brand new laptop with the presentation loaded onto it for them to keep. In those days a laptop would probably have cost more than a return flight from London to New York.

Second was the pitch for a rail company. The client turned up to an agency’s litter-strewn reception to be kept waiting amongst the mess for 20 minutes. Getting fractious, the client was just about to walk out in disgust when the head of the agency appeared and explained that this was the everyday experience of their customers, and how together they would solve it. Of course, according to legend, they won.  A risky, but brilliant, strategy.

The idea of pitch theatre can be a polarising one. You want to demonstrate to a client that you are passionate about their business, yet don’t want to appear frivolous especially when, in many cases, part of what will win you the pitch is the money you’ll save them.

As likely as it is that a client doesn’t want to be going through the motions of an arduous pitch process, secretly, they love the idea of playing ‘king for a day.’ But it’s a clever agency that hits that sweet spot between style over substance and appearing apathetic.

It’s really important that pitch theatre is directly connected to what you are talking about. It must be useful and directional where possible. A giant-sized replica of a company’s product situated in your reception area is probably not the way forward these days.

Re-usable pitch theatre can be powerful. If you showed them something in the earlier meeting that really landed, then show it again for the pitch. It demonstrates consistency and shows that you back your bets.

Don’t just tell the client about something, show them. Demoing a product or service is more compelling than a screen-grab of a tool on a slide, particularly if you’ve had access to client data that informs the results.

Let them play! Building on the above, if you are demoing something that will ultimately be controlled by the client, let them use it and get a feel for it. It may be clichéd but getting your brand in their hand means that you are already a step closer to giving them a feel of what it would be like to work with you.

There are other elements to think about too. How is the room set up? Trivial as it may seem, are the chairs comfortable? Would a client be happy to be perched there for the next couple of hours? ‘Chair-gate’ is alive and well, take it from me – I have, on many occasions, resorted to hiring in.

If your presentation is more interactive, is it easy for them to get up and move around the room? Zoning areas of the room can enhance the experience if your presentation is segmented in such a way.

Is the lighting ok? There’s not much you can do about the rain pelting against the boardroom window, but if the sun does happen to be out, can the clients actually read what’s on screen? You’ve opted for a light-grey font because it perfectly matches the theme but does it stand out? There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing all the clients wincing as they try to read what’s on screen.

Do you really need twelve hard copies of your 80 page presentation? Being environmentally friendly doesn’t go unnoticed these days; instead a USB or two should do the trick.

And finally, don’t forget the small (big) stuff. Finishing touches they may be, but if your client has a physical product, then make sure you use it. One such horror story was the pitch for Thames Water; the clients entered an agency’s boardroom to be greeted by latest cool incarnate of bottled mineral on the table…. Ouch.

Join us on 24th April for our Pitch Skills Day to find out how your pitch theatre can take centre stage.


Amy Robinson – March 2014