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Employer Branding

Do not put your best people on new business pitches

Agencies always have this dilemma about who to take along to new business pitches. Do they take the digital expert? Do they take the ‘One that doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, but clients love him’? How do we stop the Creative taking over? New business pitches can be great for exposing frailties in an organisation – and individuals – if the wrong people are sent along to the pitch.

Agencies sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be by allowing ego and self-importance to get in the way of a clear and logical plan. Extra people get involved that all have an opinion and before you know what happens the brief is diluted into several people’s opinions and interpretation and the impact is lost.

I was thinking about this when reading the “World’s best selling book by the late Paul Arden”.

Paul Arden was something of a genius and chief creative in Saatchi & Saatchi through the agency’s most glamorous and best-know period in the 1980s. He had the ability to cut through diatribe and politics with great effectiveness that was demonstrated with the success of his numerous campaigns.

You will know the ads for which he was responsible. British Airways – ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’. The Independent – ‘It is – are you?’. ‘The car in front is a Toyota’. Intercity, Fuji, Silk Cut were all also all famously graced by the Paul Arden touch.

A self educated man his whole ethos was built around challenging convention. If you want to be exceptional you cannot be ordinary. In his book Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite (2005) – and the inspiration for the title of this blog – he said that the greatest advice ever given was from Harper’s Bazaar art director, Alexey Brodovitch to a young photographer, “Astonish me.” Arden went on to write, “Bear those words in mind and everything you do will be creative.”

This approach was not without risk and for every safe employer brand like strategy it is worth considering that those who are most likely to bring creativity and originality to an organisation are not always likely to be the safe option. Paul Arden was fired six times only to rise to a better job with better acclaim:

It’s better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t

Many people reach the age of forty, only to realise they have missed out on life. In many cases they had everything going for them, except when the gauntlet was tossed their way, they lacked the courage to pick it up.

(from Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite, Paul Arden)

Arden’s observations on life were witty and astute, “Clarity of communication is more important than cleverness. Do not be frightened of ideas that might appear to be ridiculous – Look at Engelbert Humperdinck.”

I read a great story about when he was due to give a presentation on the subject of creativity. He arrived on stage followed by a string quartet, which proceeded to play a piece of music by Beethoven. Arden and the musicians then walked off. He hadn’t said a word, merely showed a few slides. It was different, unpredictable and still being talked about.

His book – “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be,” are widely read in advertising circles, but to a large extent the world of advertising is merely used as a vehicle for good business practice and taking a positive approach to work and life.

So to go back to the title of this post. Page 110 of the above mentioned book:

Do not put your best people on new business pitches.

The most respected creative people will probably do something too original, too controversial to be acceptable to a conservative group of clients at your first meeting. Put the people who consistently get the agency out of trouble on it. Their work may not be dazzling, but it will be intelligent and the client will relate to the idea better.

Finally. Present on Tuesday.

Assuming there are five pitches, on each day of the week.

By Friday the client will be so overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of work that he’ll find it impossible to make a decision.

His thinking will go like this.

Monday – great meeting, great work, nice people.
Tuesday – great meeting, great people, nice work.
Wednesday – good meeting, very fresh work, lovely young people.
Thursday – yet another great meeting, nice people, fine work.
Friday – another meeting, I don’t know.

The odds are that he will pick the Tuesday presentation, the second meeting because he was still clear-headed then.

Monday was too early, nothing to judge by.

Wednesday and Thursday were like eating too much chocolate.

Friday. Feeling sick.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, Paul Arden – available on Amazon

Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite, Paul Arden – available on Amazon


About Nick Price

Employer branding and communications, insight and engagement, talent attraction and HR analytics


One thought on “Do not put your best people on new business pitches

  1. Thank you,
    very interesting article

    Posted by ostrov | December 2, 2009, 4:32 pm

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