Thinking and Writing

Proposals and Pitching - a few do's and don'ts from a clients perspective

As part of my ongoing work with the BFI we recently invited a few agencies to come in and pitch for a new project (more details on that to follow).  This experience prompted me to rant a bit on Twitter about the approach that agencies take when pitching for work so  I thought rather than boring my followers anymore I'd list some of the Do's and Don'ts for writing proposals and pitching from a client perspective:


READ THE BRIEF!! Sounds obvious but you'd be surprised. Agencies who respond with well thought out proposals which respond to the requirements get invited in to pitch, simple as that.

Unless specified otherwise the basic format should be as follows:

  • Executive summary (an over view of your understanding of the brief and asummary of what you're going to do for them and how much its going to cost)
  • Approach (The bit where you wow them with your exciting ideas for theproject)
  • Methodology (how you intend to do the work. Keep it short!)- Timescales (when you plan on getting the work done and the stages involved)
  • Costs (make sure you include *everything* including any expenses you might incur if you intend on recharging these.)
  • The team (highlighting experience is a must here)
  • *Relevant* work experience and projects
  • Contact details

Cut down on the boilerplate. I come from an agency background so I know how easy it is to pad out a proposal with boilerplate but believe  me when you have to wade through multiple 30 page proposals full of guff you soon lose the will to live. Keep it short, keep it to the point, make it easy to read (top tip: bullet points are your friend!).

Remember that if this a proposal for a larger project then its most likely going to be seen by quite a few people who will have to fit this around their day to day work so make this task as easy as possible for them. They will always skip through to the Approach and the Price first then if you still have their attention they'll read the rest of the proposal.

Trim the processes waffle - As a client I have carefully chosen a select few agencies to send this brief out to based on recommendations, past experience and your website. I'm assuming a basic level of competence to deliver a project so no need to bang on about your processes which will inevitably get dumped as soon as you start on the project.  Besides which your Creative Processes are all the same as the next agency - you are not unique in your approach!

Mention it sure, but I really want you to tell me about your ideas to make this project amazing and how you are going to go about it.

Don't sell yourself short! - If its not already listed in the brief ask for a ball park figure for the budget and estimate the project around that. Generally speaking the client will have a set amount of money allocated for the project and thats what they will expect the estimates to come in at (+/- 10%). You won't win the work because you're cheap; it just makes the client suspicious of the quality they will be getting. They would rather the product you are working on exceeded their expectations therefore winning praise from their superiors than saving a few pounds.

Include bios and case studies. Especially if this is a new client. They want to know not only who you have worked with but also some short case studies around the project and how you went about it. They also are interested in seeing short biographies of the team that will be working on the project and their experience.

Don't be shy about teaming up. If you don't have the right in house people for a part of the job and its a requirement for the brief don't try and bluff your way through it. Partner up with someone to do this bit of the work and be honest about that. Theres nothing worse than reading a proposal written by someone who obviously has no idea what they're talking about. UX is a prime example of this.

Cut the Bullshit - This is a biggie. Don't try and lie about experience or clients that you don't have or bend the truth to breaking point. The internet makes the world a very small place and you will get found out which will fast track your proposal to the bin and tarnish your reputation for ever.


- Do your prep. When you are invited to pitch the client wants you to wow them with your ideas and how you intend going about implementing them so re read the brief, trawl their website for ideas and (if you can) ask the client questions to get more of an insight. When you are preparing your pitch expand on your initial proposal paying special attention to the approach and also include a relevant case study with a similar client and project. In the case study part talk about your approach and the journey you went on.

- Keep the presentation short. If you only have an hour don't waffle on for ages, aim for 15 - 20 minutes. The client will most likely have a list of questions they want to ask you so leave plenty of time for them.

-  On the day. Don't bank on there being projectors so have print outs of your slides. Also export your presentation to Keynote, Powerpoint and PDF just in case. Double check where the presentations are going to take place and arrive early. Normally the client will arrange all of the pitches to be on the same day so if you have a later slot expect over runs and that you will have to wait. Also if you are in a late slot expect the client to be a bit tired so try and keep your presentation to the point and lively.

So there you go, not rocket science but I hope you find it useful the next time you respond to a brief from a client.

Good luck!