The Brilliantly Simple Way To Run A Pitch

There are many ways to run a new business pitch. But here’s the very best way to do it — in 10 easy steps.

New business pitches can be a thrilling experience. They provide a vast, blue sky to dream up ideas and a big win can be euphoric. But they’re also an intense pressure cooker, bringing out the best and worst in people. Emotions run high, egos are easily enflamed and everyone seems to become infected with a savior mentality. 

In the last 18 years, I’ve participated in about 50 new business pitches, in a wide variety of advertising agencies, big and small. And I’ve personally led a few of them. If a pitch is run poorly, it can be a disaster, leaving everyone frustrated, exhausted, confused and unappreciated. And it can scuttle any hope of winning the business. To avoid this, follow these ten pointers on how to properly lead a new business pitch and make it more collaborative, more effective and more fun.

Before we begin, ask yourself a few important questions. 
  1. Is the potential client a good fit with your company culture and beliefs? Too often, companies go for the cash, but what they win is a clash of cultures. And subsequently a caustic relationship that sends talented employees running for the exits. 
  2. Is your potential client looking for someone to lead them or someone to follow orders? Savvy clients trust their agencies as expert practitioners and want to be led. 
  3. Is your potential client smart enough to know the difference between marketing and advertising? A lot of clients say they want a holistic marketing effort but what they really want is a conventional ad campaign. These clients should be avoided if you care more about your long term reputation than making short term money.
Assuming you’ve answered these questions and checked all the boxes, here’s the best way to proceed with leading the pitch. (There are some free resources included at the end of this post.)


It goes without saying that research is important, but most ad agencies do a very poor job of it. You absolutely must know everything about the company’s products and services before you can formulate a strategy. But most importantly, you must understand why that company exists in the first place. What are their beliefs? What are the principles upon which they were founded? Go back to their roots to find something truly substantive. This research begins with the initial client briefing and Q&A. 

Tip: Always include the creative lead in the client briefing. Their brain is wired differently, which compels them to ask different questions than account management or planning. And they have a uncanny bullshit meter that far exceeds that of any other agency discipline. 


Reserve the largest conference room in the building and create a “War Room” for the remainder of pitch. Do not allow the room to be used for anything else. This will be the central headquarters for everything pitch-related. Everything will go on the walls. Research, quotes, scribbles, photos, diagrams, notes, ideas, everything.

Gather as much competitive work as possible and put it on the walls. Know what’s been done and by whom. This is crucial. Time is wasted when directions are explored and ideas developed, only to find out later that a competitive brand has already pursued that path.


After the research is compiled, don’t just send the planners away by themselves to write the brief. Invite a diverse group of key players (creative, account, planning, technologists, social media gurus, etc) to sit in a room and hash it out. Get the smartest people, irrespective of seniority. Make sure to invite some smart, young, vocal people as well. They’ll provide some critical perspective. Encourage open participation. Let everyone know that those who fail to contribute their opinion will be asked to leave the meeting. This is no place for quiet, mousy types.

Set aside the entire day and just talk. Write everything down. Bring in lunch. And dinner if necessary. One intense day in a collaborative brainstorm with a bunch of smart, opinionated people is worth more than ten days of back and forth debate via email and hallway conversations.

Formulate a brand statement, based upon the client’s core brand belief. Write it out in plain, concise language. This will form the foundation from which a creative platform will be constructed.


Your plan will consist of key dates on a calendar for the entire pitch process. It will include all meetings, check-ins, creative brainstorms and internal presentations. This will be your roadmap and you should stick to it as closely as possible. 

This ensures that there are no surprise meetings and unexpected events. Everything will be predictable and everyone can manage their time individually. Make a list of all agency personnel who will participate in the pitch and email them this plan. (See a generic sample plan at the end.)


The first item on the plan is the briefing. This will not be a conventional brief with pages of text. Instead, it will be a single-sentence statement that is born from the ‘hash out’ session. The ammunition will be the wall of research. (A deck containing the research can be compiled and distributed separately.)

The goal is to keep everything ultra-condensed. If you are to communicate a compelling and relevant brand message to your audience, it must be simple and singleminded. Wordy creative briefs can get people bogged down in minutiae. Instead, distill it down to the key essential takeaway. 

This part of the briefing is very important: When you gather your creative teams together, their first marching orders are to brainstorm platforms ONLYnot executional ideas. That will come later. 

A “platform” consists of a brand belief statement articulated in a single word, phrase or tagline, supported by a short paragraph rationale, which might be written as a manifesto. It should fit on a single sheet of paper and should not include any images or design elements. Just black text on white paper. (See generic platform template at the end.)

The creative teams should get at least two or three days to develop platforms. Longer, if time allows. Planners and account management should not be excluded from this part of the process. An insight can come from anywhere. A standardized platform template document should be distributed to everyone so that everything is judged on an equal plane. Remember, no fancy designs or pretty pictures at this point. Just words.

As platforms are developed, creatives should be encouraged to pin them anonymously to a wall in the War Room, and everyone must have access to it. This anonymity removes personal bias and the wall itself provides inspiration to everyone. This platform wall will enable cross-pollination of ideas and lead to stronger thinking. You’ll see platform ideas quickly fill up an entire wall.


Many pitches include an initial “gut check” or “tissue session” with the prospective client to ascertain whether the agencies are gaining traction with their ideas. This means you’ll  need about three platform ideas in the beginning. (Later, you’ll narrow it down to just one. Preferably.)

After the wall is filled up with platforms, schedule a meeting with only top agency players to discuss. Set aside plenty of time. A few hours if necessary. This is where the top 2-3 platforms will be chosen, so make sure everyone is in agreement before proceeding. 

Note: this is one time when a room full of people is counterproductive. Creative teams will naturally defend and promote their own platform ideas and it can quickly devolve into an old west shootout. So it’s best to invite only the top decision makers: the ECD’s, the CCO, the Managing Director, the Planning Director, the CEO, and so on.

Once everyone agrees on 2-3 platforms, it’s time to brief the creatives again. Eventually, when it’s narrowed down to one platform, make sure it’s the one. Don’t change your mind at the last minute. You’ll throw your pitch into a tailspin. Be sure about your chosen platform before you take the leap.


First, identify the main contributing teams of the chosen platforms and assign them to articulate their ideas in a manifesto form (if they haven’t already). Add a couple additional people to help out if necessary. 

Most of us loath manifestos because we’ve written so many and it’s become a cliché to have them on the wall. But they still work. They work because they represent the brand belief, written in a concise, poetic way. The key is to not make it sound like the typical, formulaic manifesto. It should feel honest, sincere and conversational. Somewhere, it should probably include the words, “We believe...”

Put these platform manifestos on the wall. This will feed the upcoming brainstorming session.


Invite all your thinkers, not just creatives. Invite planners, account execs, technologists and producers as well. Keep it collaborative. This is not a competition to see who can save the day, this is about cross-pollination of ideas. 

Divide the large group into small groups of five to seven people, mixing up the various people. The brainstorming session should last 60-90 minutes.

The mission: Ask everyone to remain media agnostic. Try to avoid Super Bowl spot ideas, print ads and billboards for now, unless they are truly original and remarkable. This is about finding any idea that gets the audience noticing, talking and sharing.  A stunt, an app, an airport kiosk, a bumper sticker, a urinal cake, whatever. Then send the groups into different rooms to think.

Afterward, ask the groups to reconvene as a whole and present their individual group ideas to the room. Put everything on the wall. Open discussion should be encouraged. 

Whoever leads the meeting should establish right from the beginning that there are no bad ideas. In fact, you want to get the bad ideas out. Say anything and everything. It should be like popcorn popping, with everyone throwing out ideas and riffing. No filtering. Just creativity in its rawest form. 

Scribble, sketch and write everything on giant sheets of paper, and tack them around the room. Even a bad idea can trigger a genius idea. That’s why bad ideas are important too. 

From this, the best ideas can be identified by the ECD’s and CCO's, and assigned afterward to individual teams for further development.

Tip: Keep it flat. Whatever you do, resist the urge to create approval layers by assigning team leaders. Often, there are ACD’s, CD’s and GCD’s, all with varying levels of experience and there’s an inclination to create a hierarchy to filter or “curate” ideas, with the ECD or CCO at the top, viewing only the “cream.” This is counterproductive for a couple reasons: (1) It ignites egos, particularly if there are CD’s that must now report to other CD’s—creating a clash of equals. (2) “Curating” is the last thing you want in the beginning stages of creative development. Filters are harmful. They filter out great ideas that the ECD or CCO will never get to see, due to personal bias, ego or individual tastes. 


By now, you should have enough great ideas to fill a wall. Anywhere from 25 to 50 ideas, big and small. It’s time to assign these ideas to individual creative teams to be crafted. Naturally, you will trace back ideas to their original authors, but everyone should be given something to make.

Project managers should be assigned to monitor the progress of crafting. This is critically important! They will be used to manage workflow, facilitate resources, acquire assets and update agency leads. Everything will be charted in an Excel-type document, so creative leads will know who is doing what.

As ideas are comped, they should be pinned to the War Room wall, under columns of labeled media silos (such as: in-store, mobile, social, stunts, cinema, TV, outdoor, print, microsites, programs, apps, etc.).

This way decision makers can review the wall as often as they like to get a panorama of all the work in progress, without having to make the rounds to individual teams. This will save everyone time.

Note: Brainstorming should continue through this ‘crafting’ process. Often, in the process of bringing ideas to life, new ideas are born. These should be comped and placed on the War Room wall as well.


The final step consists of guiding and refining the work to meet the satisfaction of the agency leaders. Using the War Room wall, they can convene whenever they like and send revision requests to the creatives via the project managers. This way, the creative teams can keep working without wasting time in meetings and regroups. Discrepancies and discussions can be made on an individual basis (if say, a creative team disagrees with a requested revision from agency leaders). 

Everything will eventually be compiled in a presentation deck by an experienced person with some graphic design skills, with the project managers acquiring assets from individual creatives.


These days, more and more presentations are made strictly on a video screen. This is a missed opportunity. In addition to the video screen, surrounding the room with printed work is a terrific bit of theater. It can be simple tabloid printouts pinned to gator boards or oversized plotted printouts. It’s impressive to see a room full of work and gives the prospective client a wide snapshot of the entire brand effort. It also allows for a better post presentation discussion.

There you have it. Of course, this is only a formula for creative development. I’ve excluded any suggestions for set-up slides and strategic stuff. And some pitches include a client “tissue session” midway through the pitch, which isn’t directly addressed above. Nevertheless, the same process applies.

Try these simple steps on your next new business pitch. You won't be sorry.



Note: The documents below are generic and not copyrighted. You have permission to download, modify and use them as you see fit. (The thumbnail images/links below are just JPEG samples. To download original documents, click my Google Drive download link below.)


Documents included:
-Pitch Cheat Sheet
-Pitch Calendar (2 versions)
-Pitch Platforms template ( PPT, Keynote, InDesign)



Also: You might be wondering why I should care about this subject. Or why I would take the time to create these free documents? My answer is, anything that can help pitches run more efficiently and effectively, and spare people a lot of grief and wasted man-hours, is well worth it to me. I've been in enough pitches to discover that most agencies need help badly. -JB


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