Sarah Buxton, CEO of the Observer Effect – read time 5 minutes

A couple of weeks ago, while going through my usual ‘swipe up and see’ on LinkedIn, I came across a post. A pretty passionate, almost angry, extract from a peer educating us all on the flawed, shallow and antiquated process of pitching

I won’t (can’t, in fact) quote him directly but it ended on a note something like…

“…screw you and anyone else that wants to pit my skills, my expertise and my business, against another in a beauty parade, at my cost, to satisfy naive subjectivity and internal process/politics”.

Balls

I got into the crowded train carriage, my mind whirring. What had I done? We were all keen, committed and excited, we’d interviewed kids and their parents. I even had an inspirational hot chocolate with our client, the lovely James Thorneley, Head of Communications at Aberdeen Standard Investments. Who set my brain aflame with all the exciting possibilities in front of us.

Yes … it would be fair to say, that the train was well and truly moving.


Double Balls

Maybe this guy was right. My doubts began to rise. The way he put it, pitching really did make no sense. I totally got where he was coming from. Even for the upstarts trying their luck (us included), it would appear to be costly, hard, imbalanced and irreflective.

Don’t believe me? An example. At The Observer Effect, we’re an agency, consultancy hybrid. Which means we begin projects working in a style that’s very much collaborative. That means we need the client team. We can’t actually do our thing unless they’re present to do theirs.

Is it possible to involve a client in their own pitch? Probably not.


Triple Balls

Perhaps then we shouldn’t be making creative leaps at all. Not without full thought, testing and diligence. Perhaps we should withdraw – after all, don’t consultancies propose rather than pitch anyway?


Take us, or leave us

As the smell of burger left the carriage, along with the tired commuter attached to it, I realised, not pitching on the basis of risk was also flawed.

Magic, the creative spark we’d likely be assessed on, is rarely created by committee. At some point, you have to apply art to science. Find the board and make the leap. In our projects, there always, without exception, comes a point where science – and the said, seen and done – is parked and imaginations (who have heard and witnessed it all) are allowed to run free.

Without that freedom, without that spark – the story, the show – you (we) would be unable to make any change or choice real. The Observer Effect can’t be a ‘no-pitch’ consultancy then – not if we believe in our ability to leap. Not if we want to learn, grow and deliver ‘feels’ that have impact and influence.


Time to Stop

As the train pulled into Maidenhead, it seemed there were three questions to answer.

Did we believe the brief was a true fit for us?

Did we believe it worked commercially – win or lose?

Did we believe in the client and what they were wanting/trying to do?

If you’re an agency we have since written a handy little cheat sheet of our ‘say yes’ pitch criteria here.

Since then, we have spent some time in a very exciting world. We have been further inspired, we’ve stretched ourselves and come together as a team. We have laughed, learned and were treated very well by those who wanted to learn a little about us too.


Ending on a win

Did we win this pitch? No, but, in truth, it would have been a much greater loss to not have presented at it. The guys at The Academy were the worthy winners, they look stellar. To the guys at The Jockey Club, here’s to the plans you have, we’re looking forward to seeing the impact they’re going to make.

And us? When the right brief comes along, we will pitch again, after all, it’s staying your comfort zone that will kill you.

Until next time …

SB

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