Large and small agencies approach the pitching process differently. While the large, well-established agencies can employ vast resources when it comes to labour and capital, smaller agencies have limited resources with which to pitch, therefore constantly thinking outside the box to be creative on a small budget.
Our next event, ‘Pitching for success: pitfall and opportunities’ takes place on 21 February at Allianz Park in London in collaboration with the Future in 15 Show. In the lead-up, we are gathering feedback from event planners across the industry that will inform suitable discussion and appropriate questions about the challenges faced by event managers around the world when it comes to pitching.
After an insightful interview with Kevin Jackson, the founder of The Experience is the Marketing, I wanted to explore the approach to pitching by very small agencies, that is, usually an agency where the owner is the main employee and the ‘face’ of the business. For this topic, I interviewed Sabrina Meyers, the founder of Orchid Lily Events. Based in Cologne, Germany, she is most probably known for her YouTube channel and social media presence as Hot Hospitality Exchange. It is no surprise that we also met via Twitter less than a year ago.
Sabrina and I both have small businesses, so we hosted an Instagram Live chat, sharing our experience and discussing what pitching means for business such as ours.
What are the differences between small and large agencies when it comes to pitching?
Small agencies are usually individuals and therefore the main difference is the scope of work that they can take on. When the larger agencies go for a pitch, they have more resources and they tend to pitch for much larger jobs, such as launches and big calendar events. Small agencies may pitch for a specific part of that business, for example just the sourcing, or being on-site, or perhaps both.
The second difference concerns client relationships. The larger agencies have better relationships with suppliers; they might have ‘service level agreements’ in place providing them with preferred rates or certain ‘value added’ that the independent agencies cannot access. As a result, small agency pitches might be less competitive. However, while larger agencies have greater labour and capital resources, smaller agencies can offer a boutique-style service. For some clients, working more closely with the owner on a more bespoke service is preferable.
What are the main challenges with pitching?
The main challenge for small agencies is the size of budget that can be put towards pitching. Therefore, activities are often undertaken pro-bono in order to win the business or prove their capabilities or experience. To mitigate major expenses, small players need to conduct thorough research to find the type of clients that they really want to work with and support.
Pitching is pricey, and the process is risky; you might see a return if you win the business, however it can equally be money lost if you do not charge to pitch and your pitch budget is limited.
Realistically, it is not possible to charge for pitching, where large companies have resources to put towards pitching specifically. In our industry, it is simply not realistic to charge clients for the pitch even though agencies put a lot of work into the process. You would not go to a lawyer and ask for free legal support, so why would you go to an event planner and ask them to pitch for free? That said, there will be always someone who will do it for free, and unless there is a new industry standard that requires clients to pay for pitches, it will remain so.
Udit Paliwal, Account Manager at Shobiz Experiential Communications in India agreed that the challenge of budgeting for pitching is a major concern, commenting that ‘This is a highly common and inevitable element for both the client and the agency. Even if the agency wants to deliver the best, they are unable to because of budget restrictions. This is however a long and lasting phenomena in the events industry which we have to tackle without questions’.
Second, competition is a challenge, creating a ‘David vs. Goliath’ scenario. Depending on the country the agency is based, they face huge competition from other agencies pitching for the same business and it might not always be fair odds. Where larger agencies have more resources, can perhaps prepare better pitches because of access to more funding and enhanced tech, they are at a significant advantage over smaller agencies.
The third challenge concerns supplier relations. As much as we want to believe that suppliers offer rate parity, this might not always be the case, and there can be a difference in the overall pricing that the agency pitches to the customer. Certain suppliers will have ‘service-level agreements’ in place, meaning they will have access to cheaper pricing along with other potential added value that other agencies might not have access to, and this will put them at an advantage over the competition. Unfortunately, it is not a level playing field.
Lastly, Udit added that the actual business approach of clients can be a challenge, ‘When a brief has come, there are many limitations that an agency has to face. Sometimes the client restricts the overall area of work, that is, they already know what they are looking for. They tell us to stick to the conventional way of doing things. For example, venue, event type, audience engagement etc. Agencies are often told the way where they have to think and build the scope of work. This restricts the creativity and the art of conceptualising the event, and hence makes the pitching process mundane and less exciting’.
What are your top tips for preparing for a face-to-face pitch?
People buy YOU. You have to look good and be confident; be very well prepared and enthusiastic. Be prepared, look the part, be present, know your numbers and figures, and anticipate the questions. Try filming yourself and watch it back, so you can see what needs to be improved in your presentation, such tone of voice, posture, or repetition.
What is the best way to win new business?
For Sabrina, the best way has always been through word-of-mouth referrals, and more recently, through social media. Sabrina started her vlog, Hot Hospitality Exchange only last year, and is already reaping the benefits of online exposure. Therefore, the role of social media for small agencies is HUGE. Small agencies do not have the benefit of extensive resources; owners usually do everything themselves, including client acquisition, pitching, delivering the event, and all the mundane and necessary administration. Therefore, social media plays a pivotal role in getting noticed and building relationships that lead to winning new business.
For Sabrina, social media is a large part of what she does, which explains her idea for setting up a dedicated channel as an event professional. Every day she has access to on-site inspections and familiarisation trips, enabling her to see all the venues and destinations. All this information is easily retained, and in an agency environment, employees share it with their team members, for example at internal meetings, or via newsletters.
The reason behind her channel is to share all that information on a platform that is completely public. Therefore, other event planners who might not be able to visit a particular venue abroad, or are considering whether to attend a particular show, will be able to access the information and make use of the experience. That way, knowledge is not lost. With social media, any influencer marketing planners can add to their knowledge and become an authority. Often, people do not remember specific information but will instead recall where the information is stored. That way, they can always revisit an old article and check for specific details. Thus, the moment people start commenting on your blog/ vlog, it opens up an opportunity to build relationships and network.
How do we avoid being ‘one of the three’ that clients need when they know who they will choose. Do you think you can charge if that happens?
No, you cannot charge. However, you can ask the client who else is pitching, or it might be possible to find out through mutual connections. Based on the collection of information and an established client relationship (or the lack of it), agencies can decide whether to pitch. It is easier not to pitch than to pitch. It also depends on the client and how honest they are. It should be reasonable from the client perspective to manage an agency’s expectations. That boils down to client relationships and everything that the client shares regarding the pitch, enabling all candidates to be on the same playing level field.
If you know they have a preference for someone, figure out why, try to be creative, and take an executive decision whether or not to pitch. If you know that they are not going to pick you, why do it?
How do you deal with a situation while working on a pitch when a client restricts your scope of work and services (which are required for the brief) and your expertise is restricted? What do you do when the client is stuck on their ‘typical’ ways of doing things?
Clients might be restricted because of the policies and procedures, which are already in place. For example, procurement might get in the way of what you want to achieve; they cannot provide some information that needs to be submitted in a particular way, because of their procurement system. This can limit creativity.
A solution might be to ask questions, because there might be a possibility of overcoming the issue. You could also consider introducing a new idea as a ‘pilot’. By choosing different wording and language, clients will be less intimidated and ready to try something new.