Pitches going virtual: Can you still ace the chemistry test?

 

Amidst the widespread COVID-19 outbreak, companies across the globe are adopting a ‘work from home’ approach as part of precautionary and social distancing measures during this period.This then leads to the rise of questions around the impact of current and future work, as well as the decrease in pitch activity. Recently, it was reported that Gap will be halting its global media review due to the increasing numbers of cases in the US and Europe. In Southeast Asia however, agency heads that Marketing spoke to previously said there has been no delays in local pitches or reviews thus far. 

Here in Asia,through our numerous conversations, it is clear that both marketers and agencies are determined to maintain productivity in volatile times. A R3 report explained that now more than ever, both marketers and agencies will be looking for ways to manage cost, increase effectiveness, and explore innovative ways for reaching audiences.

Despite the current situation, the report explained that marketers are still looking for agencies that can engage and show great creative and innovative thinking. “Marketers want to meet agencies who they can envision having a relationship with. New skills might need to be learned to communicate capability in a virtual environment, and agencies that are looking to sharpen their techniques should take the initiative to do so,” the report said.

Nonetheless, changes need to be made. Pitch approach for one, needs an overhaul. Pitches during this period need to be adapted to accommodate people working from multiple locations and time zones.

One platform that will aid the pitch process is video conferencing.

While this might help overcome the current "lockdown" situation many countries are imposing, marketers and agencies were united in their reservations around it given that chemistry between teams is a significant component of a pitch selection process. While the move might be uncomfortable to the parties involved, R3 urges teams to remain focused on the "core elements that make up a pitch" and ensuring those are not diminished.

“Connecting with people through a screen requires a lot more preparation and consideration than conducting a presentation in person. One must be conscious of nuance and pay attention to clarity when the opportunity for in-person presentation is not available,” the report added. However, it is crucial for marketers and agencies to now embrace the use of video conferencing altogether in aiding the pitch process. It might not be replacement for face-to-face meetings, but if there are restrictions on travel and gathering, if done right, virtual pitching can be helpful keep business moving, the R3 report explained.

Here are some tips to tackle the issue:

1. Be familiar with the platform

If a virtual pitch is being called, marketers should inform participating agencies of the video conferencing platform being used as early as possible and provide advance details of system requirements. Technical glitches are not uncommon in any virtual meeting scenario, but lack of preparation and contingency will negatively impact the overall experience.

2. Design the meeting around discussion

The challenge of having participants using different types of technology and having access to different internet bandwidths can be addressed by ensuring that any decks and videos are shared prior to the call so that the meeting time can be used for discussion and answering questions. Virtual pitches require heightened engagement, and the less the time people spend “watching” and more time “talking”, the higher this engagement is likely to be. In addition, having meetings designed around discussion will ensure that meetings are kept to reasonable duration. It is highly likely that for regional or global pitches participants will be different places and different time zones. This might mean that one participant is up at 3am to be on the call, while another is joining the pitch at the end of their day.

3. Make it face-to-face

Aside from technical issues, engagement is the biggest challenge in virtual pitching.

Studies looked up by R3 revealed that on average, a person stops watching videos after six minutes, whereas in person, brief attention declines after 10 to 18 minutes. A study of attention during conference calls also revealed that 23% of managers provided full attention, 25% attended to their email and 27% did other work. With in-person scenarios, presenters are able to quickly observe and re-energise their audience when needed. In a virtual scenario, it is too easy for people to stop paying attention.

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4. Follow good chairing protocol

A common complaint in virtual meetings is that conversations tend to meander. This, however, is not exclusive to online conferencing and can happen in traditional meetings without a clear agenda and meeting leader. Time is wasted on periods of silence where participants are waiting for instruction, or alternatively, people might have so much to say that they end up speaking over each other without clear meeting protocol.

5. Leverage the power of video

Video is a powerful medium to communicate emotion. This can be especially helpful in virtual situations where lack of physical proximity limits reaction and response. Agencies using videos in their pitch presentations should pay attention to use of colour, facial expression, movement, and music.

6. Make case studies self-explanatory

Agencies should take the initiative to be more detailed in their case studies and refrain from being overly conceptual. There might not be the time or opportunity for further discussion in a virtual pitch, and the best way to ensure that marketers understand what you want to say is to communicate it clearly.

7. Organise opportunity for feedback

Virtual pitches should be expected to be shorter than in-person presentations. This means that further clarification might be required on some points missed or not received clearly, or people have questions they were not able to ask due to time restraints. Marketers who organise virtual pitches should ensure that a feedback process is in place where team members can collate and share their feedback in real-time or after the presentation.