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Pitch doctor offers success on a plate; IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE BIRMINGHAM POST e-PAPER MEDIA MARKETING.

Byline: John Duckers examines the art of being a pitch doctor

Pitching for new business takes time and money and the odds are not great.

On average, four or five companies pitch for the same business, so the failure rate is around 75 per cent.

In a bid to increase their chances, some are employing the services of pitch doctors, but do they really work and what do they prescribe to help you win the day?

Based at Barford, near Warwick, Peter Hancock, pictured, claims to be one of the country's leading pitch doctors with 33 years experience working with some of the world's largest brands and some of the smallest start-ups.

He said: "A company's pitch will be judged by prospective clients on eight key elements.

"You have to show that you are a safe pair of hands; you have a good team that works well together and generates a buzz; you would be stimulating and fun to work with; you understand them and their business issues; you will go the extra mile; you want them to be successful and share their ambitions; you are value for money and you can solve their problem.

"Most pitches fail because they have concentrated on the solution to the problem, to the detriment of all the other aspects the client is looking for.

"This is supported by an Advertising Agencies Register survey which indicated only 15 per cent of the solution presented in a winning company's pitch is ever used by the client; in other words the successful companies are winning the accounts on the strengths of the other seven elements."

Poor presentations and the inability to think on their feet has been the downfall of many in the BBC's television series Dragon's Den.

Mr Hancock, who claims to have coached senior executives in international blue chip clients such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Vodafone, JC Decaux and Opel, said: "Many companies rely on Powerpoint, often hiding behind this by rattling off what everyone can read on the screen for themselves, when they should be building a rapport with their prospective clients and ensuring they are memorable; personal chemistry has a huge part to play in the pitch.

"Robotic presentations based around a seemingly unending stream of bullet points, graphs and pictures are a real turn off; the audience is likely to sleep through the whole thing with their eyes open. Many repeat the same mistakes at every pitch, believing that practice makes perfect; it doesn't, only practice of the perfect makes perfect."

So how do pitch doctors work?

Once he has a good idea of his client's business and the potential client they will be presenting to, Mr Hancock will assess their draft pitch.

He will start by stripping out all the noncontributing content of excessive PowerPoint slides, uninteresting facts and repetition.

He will work with his client to build up a "persuasive case", adding analogies and examples that add colour and something he calls "stickability" to the message - supposed to ensure the approach is remembered long after that of the competition.

He will then coach his clients in effective presenting skills, and they will rehearse on camera until they are "pitch-perfect".

For major international companies he charges pounds 4,000 for a two-day course for up to six executives; he is then available on the 'phone at no additional charge.

However, locally he says his fees are less, tailored to the individual or company's needs.

But have Midlands agencies ever heard of pitch doctors, have they ever used them, would they ever use one, and how do they go about pitches themselves?

Core Marketing was aware of pitch doctors, had never used one but would consider doing so.

Juliet Collings, managing director, said: "It may seem like common sense but the most important factor in a successful pitch is understanding exactly what the client wants; we find that the harder we interrogate and question the brief, the more successful our pitches become.

"In terms of external assistance for pitches, we often use consultants for new business pitches to undertake sector research, but we have never employed anybody to help us with how to pitch. However, that is not to say that we wouldn't; although we have a relatively high success rate, we are not so arrogant as to suggest there are not better ways of doing things.

"Where we would draw the line is involving an outsider in the pitch itself - at Core we pitch with the team who will work on the account so the client knows from the outset exactly who they are dealing with."

David Clarke, managing director at Clarke Associates, who have used presentation skills training in the past, said: "I congratulate Peter.

"He has taken what appears to be a presentation skills programme - which quite a few people offer - and packaged it imaginatively as something many consultancies will reckon they need. A true marketeer!

"I'm not convinced though that he's offering something really new - and that we haven't used before.

"Pitching is both a science and an art. It begins as soon as the brief arrives - how the consultancy responds to the receipt of a brief can impact on whether they are successful or not. The questions asked, the research undertaken, the interest shown - they are every bit as important a part of the pitch as the presentation itself.

"In my time I've witnessed - indeed been a part of - both success and failures.

"In the early days of using PCs, projectors and PowerPoint we gave a presentation to a developer - in a Portakabin on a would-be industrial estate early one very cold February morning. Our equipment blew the fuses; there was no electrician on hand - and then no heating or hot water. And that's how it was for the prospective client for the rest of the day. Needless to say, we didn't win the business.

"Good old-fashioned boards, passing round visuals and showing genuine enthusiasm for the brief and the prospective client - they are far more important than a slick, but sterile presentation on a laptop."

Headline Communications has never heard of pitch doctors or Mr Hancock.

So the agency went to his web site to find out what he was about.

Partner Phil Parkin said: "Seems from what I can see that he is someone who does two things - assists with training sales staff and with pitch presentations.

"Would I use him - yes maybe, but there are plenty of other very good people here in the Midlands doing exactly the same thing.

"In fact, at Headline Communications we have invested a fair bit of time and money in pitch presentation and to a lesser extent sales training over the years. Knowing how to put on a good presentation is extremely important, because by the time you have got to that stage you are probably down to the last few companies bidding for an account.

"Even more so, when you get to the pitch stage you are being judged by people who are probably more interested in finding out how you come over and whether they think they can work with you or not, rather than whether you can do the job.

"So, it's vital to know about things like 'death by PowerPoint' - jargon maybe but important all the same. Take the latter - a few years ago I was asked to take part in a pitch with an advertising agency where their PowerPoint presentation was an eye-watering 90 slides long, packed full of unreadable graphs and dull text. It was so boring that two of the people being pitched to had drifted off to sleep - and the pitch was well and truly lost well before it got to my bit at the end about media relations.

"So yes, you do need 'pitch doctors' to point out that things like that are going to cost you dearly."
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 17, 2008
Words:1309
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