Why pitching won’t help you find the right partner

Our thoughts on pitching

If we want our working partnerships to be truly rewarding, we need to rethink how they begin.

Although we try to avoid it, being proactive about the organisations we want to work with, we do find ourselves embroiled in pitches from time to time. And it’s a process, broadly speaking, we have a love-hate relationship with. That word, relationship, is perhaps why we grapple so much with pitches and why they can cause us, as a group of passionate individuals, a lot of heartache. 

An initial brief from a potential client, often coming to us as a referral, marks to us what could be the start of a beautiful new relationship. But just as our clients have to pick the right agency or consultant for them, we also start by seeing if they have potential to be ‘the one’ for us. And that goes back to our core values, to see whether or not we’re compatible. 

Our values really are our core. Courage, curiosity and collectivism are the principles by which we work because we believe they drive us to achieve the most impact. But they’re also a marker of who we are. And so it’s important that our clients’ values connect with our own. More than that, to know if they’ll be embracing of us as people and of our enquiring and consultative approach.

As a team driven by purpose not profile, any project we choose to take on is a labour of love. So we’ll always ask ourselves how passionate we are about the work potential clients are doing. Naturally we’re supportive of most charity, not-for-profit or social enterprise endeavours. But to pour our heart and souls into a project, we need to be more than just supportive. We have to believe in what change an organisation is striving for, of course. And we need to be sure of a project’s intention before we begin building a working brief around it. 

Projects we get most excited about are those with the best foundation in terms of values and intention. Those which allow us to give them our best. If we see we’re not going to achieve the impact we could, it may well be a waste of everyone’s time going any further. It’s at this stage that we’ll politely decline a certain percentage of pitch or tender invitations. For those that remain, we’ll start investing our interest and time from the get-go. We’ll look at the opportunities and threats the organisation faces. And we’ll start to form a vision of what our future together could look like, what we could achieve through not just the immediate project but potential ones further down the road. 

That’s why what we really want to do at the start is talk. Not just a 30 minute chat on the phone about the brief but a thorough discussion. 

We’ll have questions from the moment we look at an invitation to work together – and we won’t stop asking them until after we’ve delivered and evaluated the work. We’re curious: we’ll want to get to know the organisation and project team from the inside, to find out what matters most to them and the people or cause they support. We’re courageous: we’ll want to delve deep into who they really are and what might be in the way of them achieving their potential. We’re collective: we believe the best work comes from collaboration. To put it simply, we don’t want to just scratch the surface. We need to see the full picture, and what’s behind it, if we’re to work together on a solution that will make a lasting difference. 

We don’t want to just scratch the surface. We need to see the full picture, and what’s behind it, if we’re to work together on a solution that will make a lasting difference. 

Sometimes, before we get to do any of that, we’re asked to try to prematurely squeeze our thoughts, energy, passion and emotion into a pitch process. A process that’s largely based around box-ticking exercises to see how we ‘stack up’ against other suitors. Often there are questions around our size, previous partners, payment terms – fair questions, but not the sort that will answer whether you can see us together in one or two years’ time. 

We’re often asked to provide ‘an indicative solution’ to the brief. We don’t mean to offend by saying no. It’s not because we don’t want to work on the project or put the effort in at this stage. But we’re not prepared to insult our potential new partners or ourselves by offering a back of a fag packet solution that’s based on little more than a handful of assumptions. We have lots of work examples that demonstrate what we’re capable of, strategically and creatively, when we find the right partner. 

Then there’s the performance. The sales spiel. Dazzling people in what can feel like a Dragons’ Den scenario. We’re not sales people and we don’t employ sales people to pitch for us. 

So, inevitably, there are times we fall foul of the pitch process. When we don’t get to have deep and meaningful conversations. Or show the real us. And that glowing ember of hope for a long-term relationship is extinguished before it has a chance to really catch fire, leaving us a little heartbroken and wondering what could have been had they not been the one that got away. 

But then there are the others. Those who want to get to know us as we want to get to know them, both as an organisation and as a team of individuals. Those who challenge us and themselves to achieve great things, together. They’re the clients that fill our hearts with joy.  

Show a little love for good process: see our guide to choosing the right partner.