Never, when I used to do face-to-face pitches, would I ever have been interrupted by a rabbit – that’s just been one of the many challenges of the new virtual pitching environment in which we now find ourselves during lockdown.
I’ve done a lot of scheme pitches in my time, and 90 per cent of them have been face to face. Usually there is a long build up, preparing the right content and storylines, time spent in the war room as a presenting team, honing our words, our handovers, critiquing each other. It brings a camaraderie, a sense of teamwork.
At the pitch there would be a real nervous energy in the team – everybody going over their bits, re-reading the research brief drinking coffee, and making small talk. Each pitch has its own set of challenges, with roles defined, managing the flow, technology, timing, tricky questions, people on your side and sometimes people not on your side. Generally you’d leave satisfied that the effort had been put in. Then on a bit of a high from all the adrenaline, off for a debrief in a coffee shop or bar. It was very much a shared team experience.
Virtual pitching has been a bit different. Firstly, the delivery platform. Webex, Teams, Zoom and a plethora of challengers. Each one offers a different set of ‘opportunities’. Sometimes the company or adviser tells us which platform to use, sometimes we get the choice. Sometimes your computer doesn’t accept the platform of choice but it’s a pitch for a big opportunity so you need to find a way round it.
During my most recent pitch it felt like Cape Canaveral. I had four screens on my desk and was using every one just to deliver everything we wanted to and to cope with the tech of choice. I was driving everybody’s slides – listening out for cues to move the slides on, unable to let my concentration waver for one minute. In the virtual pitching world you are expected to be an editing producer and a product expert, and you better be ready to pick up one of your colleagues’ sections too.
Challenge two – ground control to Major Tom. Loss of signal manifests itself in lots of ways:
Completely disappears – I’ve had this and seamless moved onto the next session in story, coming back when connection resumed. I’ve also seen it with panics and no plan B –you only do that once.
Loses visual but still has sound – this happened recently where a colleague lost his web connection before his section – a series of desperate WhatsApp messages were being fired to me as the person pitching before him carried on through their section. The client was unaware of the issue as we had rehearsed that many times – but had we all been in the same room, we would have seen the sweat dripping from my colleague.
Presenting but in a mix of Darth Vader sound and Dot Matrix slides – in many ways this is the worst. Everybody is hoping at some point the line will clear and the images magically synch with a lush rich voice. How bad does it have to get for someone to pull the plug?
The third challenge is family and pets. It shouldn’t be a challenge, the family knows I have a big pitch today and not to disturb me between 2 – 3 pm. Just before 2 pm I give an extra reminder.
The pitch is running, with one of my colleagues covering the implementation plan – we can all be seen on-screen, though stay ‘present’ is the buzz word. I hear my door open and my youngest son appears. I shoot him a furious silent look and he reads my subtle but deadly serious gesture to depart.
I didn’t realise he hadn’t closed the door properly. He has a pet that stays in his room, that pet is a white rabbit with a black ring round her eye who goes by the name of Bandit. She really likes to come into my office. Sure enough she arrives at the door, pushes it open and starts hopping around looking for cables to chew on.
Decision time. I calculate that I have enough time to get the rabbit out before I have to speak again. That’s when it becomes clear to those whom we are presenting, that I have only made an effort to dress smartly from the waist up. Busted.
All that and you don’t get to go for a team drink afterwards…