On Winning

Presenting at the AT Kearney Worldwide Partners Meeting on February 14th 2014, Chris Foster reveals how to structure and create a great pitch, and the steps Saatchi & Saatchi take to ensure that each pitch is in flow, where the team shares the same vision, and the final outcome contributes to the same dream.

AT Kearney Worldwide Partners Meeting Bali, Indonesia – 14 February 2014

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” – Vince Lombardi, ESPN’s Coach of the Century

This is an attitude that we carry at Saatchi & Saatchi. We may not be successful in every pitch we enter, but we are serious about winning each and every time.

In the advertising industry, pitching can determine the fate of an agency. Big accounts make our people and infrastructure possible. The failure to win or retain an account is felt across the entire company. The stakes can be so high that losing a key account can alter an agency’s fortunes for years to follow, or worse, cause them to collapse.

Saatchi & Saatchi is part of the Publicis Groupe, the third largest communications company in the world. In the first 9 months of 2013, the Groupe generated $3.4 billion of new business. The duration of client relationships is getting shorter. In 1997 you would have to pitch for an existing client every 8 years. Today, it’s every 3.

This seriousness to pitching is why advertising agencies are regarded as experts on the topic. We are also infamous for the tactics we use to win.

On the flipside, pitching is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. Pitches are an invitation to share something new and create a conversation. It offers our agency the opportunity to take our creativity to the next level.

I know what you are thinking. Easy for me to say when Saatchi & Saatchi have an army of creative people behind it, churning out great ideas. While that may be true to some extent, we have learned a few things over the years that are translatable to any pitch, particularly when you are talking about pitching a service, which is what both our companies do.


At Saatchi & Saatchi, we have two key foundations we use as the basis of every pitch.

  1. Who are we?
  2. Our Point of View

We make sure that everyone who works for us and with us knows who we are and what we stand for.

Our identity at Saatchi & Saatchi is built around our Purpose. It defines our unique place in the world and outlines our Focus, Dreams, Beliefs and Characteristics. It highlights our Greatest Imaginable Challenge. Our Purpose something we include in every pitch. When enter into a relationships with a client, we make sure that it is clear whom they are signing up with.

Our Point of View revolves around moving brands from being “known for something” to being “known for things that people care about”. We call them Lovemarks.

Lovemarks are the future beyond brands. They are built on Respect and Love. They reach into people’s hearts as well as their minds, creating an intimate, emotional connection that they don’t want to live without. Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Brands are irreplaceable. Lovemarks are irresistible.

Once your team has got these two foundations right, the next thing to consider is how you are going to set yourself apart from the competition.



TAKEAWAY: Offer solutions, not problems.

A pitch is not an opportunity for you to run through the resume of your company’s achievements. It is not an opportunity to talk about yourselves. It is also not than opportunity to highlight problems faced by potential clients.

Most companies are already aware of their weaknesses. They know what they need to improve. They are aware of the edge their competitors have on them. What they want to hear from you is not an echo of their own thoughts. They did not invite you to repeat the points of their last board meeting.

Talking about problems may show the extent of your knowledge about their company, but it does not reveal how you will add value in the partnership. In a pitch event, people want to be excited about the future. They want to be inspired and to be shown what’s possible.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we aim to deliver beyond expectations. Why give people what they expect when you can give them what they could never dream of?

Mother is a brand of energy drink in Australia. When Saatchi & Saatchi was pitching for the account, it was around the time that their competitor, Red Bull, was about to send a man to the edge of space. As part of our pitch, we wanted to show Mother that we could put them one step ahead of their competition. This is what we did.


TAKEAWAY: It’s relationships that matter in the long-run.

A big factor in the final decision of a pitch is likely to be chemistry, it is important to win advocates the moment you begin the pitch process. A company will decide if they want to see more of you – or not. Can they imagine working with you? Do they want you on their team?

When pitching, you need to adopt an attitude of generosity. Not just with your time, but with your actions.

Get to know the people in the room. Go beyond titles and corporate bios. Dig deep to uncover what makes them tick. Are they visual or verbal learners? What are their likes and dislikes?

Be inclusive in your interactions. Don’t just play to the loudest person in the room. Take everyone on a journey and encourage participation. Never assume who the key influencers may be. Some decision-makers are quiet observers.

Being generous also means giving a gift of effort. Last year, when Saatchi & Saatchi pitched for St. George Bank, one of Australia’s most iconic banks, we created our first TVC for them before they hired us.


Takeaway: The simplest idea can be the most powerful idea.

Radio Hauraki is a rock radio station in New Zealand. It’s not a big account, but the brand is iconic to the country.

When Saatchi & Saatchi decided to pitch for the account we needed to show Radio Hauraki two things:

  • We really understood the world of radio
  • We had the edginess they were looking for.

So we created our own radio station. On pitch day a guitar case was sent over filled with some unique ideas we had developed and instructions on how to tune in to our very own radio channel.

We ran the entire pitch over the radio. We couldn’t see how they were responding, or if they were even listening. We won the account because we demonstrated that we were willing to take the risk and do the obvious – pitch to a radio station through the radio.

When budget airline Jetstar was looking for an advertising agency, we thought about what we could do to make a statement about how they stacked up against the competition.

Virgin Australia is the market leader, so naturally we started joking about what would happen if we got Richard Branson to fly Jetstar.

Then we realized that we didn’t need to get the Richard Branson to fly Jetstar. We just needed to get a Richard Branson to fly Jetstar.

So we found a guy named Richard Branson, paid for him to go on a trip via Jetstar, and sent a copy of his boarding pass to them with this note:


Takeaway: Engage your audience by appealing to the senses.

We live in a world of screens. They have become, in a sense, a window to the world. However, as many of us have experienced in social settings, mobile phones, televisions and tablets can be a distraction and a barrier to conversation. Pitches that focus on screens give people a reason to shift their attention from you and what you are saying, to what they are seeing. It can also give them an excuse to zone out.

Incorporating elements that appeal to the senses is one way to ensure that people remain engaged. Listening to someone speak is one thing. Participating in an activity increases rates of recall and improves overall understanding.

When we pitched for our client Air New Zealand, we created an activity to ensure that our message was memorable. Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand created a floor mat that outlined the journey of our pitch. We used this to literally walk everyone through the story.

As a leave behind, we created books of stories about the airline which we wrapped with a custom made Saatchi & Saatchi airline seatbelt.


Takeaway: Reason leads to conclusions, emotion leads to action.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

It was the neurologist Donald Calne who said, “Reason leads to conclusions, emotion leads to action.”

In advertising, we are in the action business. Our job is to get people to engage with ideas. Studies show that the most effective method to get the attention of consumers is to appeal to the emotions.

In management consulting, the value of a pitch can be a hard sell. We’re talking about numbers, logistics, facts. Lots of charts. Lots of text. When the variation in content and presentation is minimal, the one thing that can differentiate you from the competition is your ability to emotionally connect.

Saatchi & Saatchi New York released this TVC for Duracell. It never ran on television but has received more than 22 million views. What people loved about it was the power and emotion in Derrick’s story. The campaign not only created meaningful conversation, but Duracell awarded us a greater share of the account without a pitch.


Takeaway: Great ideas come when we work together.

The problem with working in a company of smart of people is that everyone thinks that their view is correct. Silos are not able to produce the best ideas because they tend to be too inward-looking. They are limited by a singular worldview.

Great things happen when you have the right mix of skills and experience. A group of people exchanging ideas and opinions, creating something that wasn’t there in the first place. A great pitch team operates on trust and candor. It’s about a collective goal and contribution from every person on the team. A team that works together and supports each other.


Takeaway: All it takes is a moment to win you the job.

In advertising lore there is the story of how an agency was called to pitch for British Rail. At the time, their brand was notorious for constantly being late. Their inability to keep time was damaging their reputation.

When the British Rail team arrived at the agency for the pitch meeting, they were asked to take a seat in a waiting room. After 5 minutes, they checked with reception to confirm that their presence had been announced. After 15 minutes, they checked again. The response was always “Yes sir, they’ll be with you shortly”.

After 30 minutes, the people from British Rail got tired of waiting and walked out. When walking through the lobby, the pitch team was waiting to greet them.

“Now you know how you make your customers feel. Let’s talk about how we can help your brand.”

Staging an experience like that for British Rail requires some degree of risk. The client may not have responded so well. They may not have had the insight to understand what we were trying to do, or have the sense of humor to laugh at the situation.

What was important was that the pitch showed that the agency understood the client. More importantly it showed that the agency also understood how British Rail’s customers were feeling.


  1. Show them the window, not the mirror
  2. Treat them like they are already a client
  3. Surprise with the obvious
  4. Deliver with a human touch
  5. Emotion leads to action
  6. Collaboration is creativity
  7. Create moments that matter


Anyone who has been involved in a pitch knows that it’s not just about coming up with great ideas. It is a demanding exercise that can turn incredibly stressful if you don’t have the right process in place.

At Saatchi & Saatchi, we work to 7 steps to ensure that each pitch is in flow, our team shares the same vision, and the final outcome contributes to the same dream.


  • Must be able to own the process and make the tough calls
  • Responsible for establishing expectations and providing clarity on the assignment
  • Has a passion for the project and is someone people will rally around
  • Defines the team’s roles and key milestones


  • Craft a team that will help you win, which isn’t always the expected team
    • Choose based on skills and then cull for chemistry
    • Everyone present must add value to the day; Fewer people are better
  • Establish a RASCI
  • Assign a pitch doctor (someone senior who can objectively critique everything)
  • CGather everyone together for a kick off meeting


  • How are we going to over-deliver on the assignment?
  • What is our a competitive advantage?
  • What else can we do to turn the odds in our favor?
  • Assign every person on the pitch team a counterpart on the client team
    • What are their strengths and weaknesses? Likes and Dislikes?


  • Build a space that inspires collaboration.
    • It can be virtual or actual, but everything connected to the pitch has to be accessible for comment and feedback from team members
  • Appoint a curator that is responsible for updating and maintaining the space
  • Create a workflow that is fluid; ensure everyone is working together.
  • Establish a schedule of mandatory check-ins for all pitch participants.


  • Create the right environment to host the pitch in:
    • It needs to be reflective of your understanding of their business.
    • It needs to immediately differentiate you from your competitors.
    • It needs to make the client more receptive to your message.
    • Refer back to Radio Hauraki
  • Create some pitch theatre:
    • What actions will say more than words?
    • What unexpected surprises or moments of emotion can we introduce to the session?
    • How can we break up the flow and create opportunities for dialogue throughout the presentation rather than wait until the end?
    • Refer back to British Rail
  • Create a memorable leave behind:
    • This is not the hard copy of your pitch or full length copy of your proposal
    • Refer back to Air New Zealand


  • Debrief the content after running through it a couple of times
    • Have we covered the needs of everyone in room?
    • Is the presentation too long? Too wordy?
  • Bring in the pitch doctor a few days before. If something just isn’t working, they have the authority to make changes to people and content.
  • Hold a dress rehearsal the day/night before
    • Get on the same page before you get into the room
    • Align on specifics of the day (i.e. dress, seating)
  • Assign a time keeper (MC)
  • Agree on the rules of engagement
    • Who is leading the discussion?
    • Who are the topic and category experts?


  • Remain vigilant about talking with them, not at them
  • Have stimulus for them react to, not just slides to talk about
  • Show that you are excited to be there through your actions, not just your words
  • Bring them a gift, or if it is in your office make sure you have food and drink available
  • Relax and enjoy yourself. This will also put them at ease.


  1. Pick a pitch leader
  2. Build the right team
  3. Outline what it will take to win
  4. Establish a war room
  5. Set the stage
  6. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
  7. Be generous on the big day

The seven principles we’ve covered should have inspired you to think differently about how you can approach pitch opportunities.

The seven steps discussed outline a process to how to structure your pitches.

Download a copy of the speech

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