by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE
To pitch or not to pitch?
For the past 2 weeks my twitter feed has been dominated by dialogue, discussion and debate around “pitching” and whether it’s a game that any self respecting #eventprof or agency, big or small, should play. The conversations were stimulated by an interview with, and subsequent blog post about, Kevin Jackson, that doyen of #eventprofs who, in his stellar career, has, allegedly, participated in 700 pitches. Having done the equivalent of a pitch a week for 14 years, Kevin’s advice to #eventprofs now is “don’t pitch!”
In her comprehensive report on Kevin’s interview with Caleb Parker, Irina Graf picks up on Kevin’s insistence on the primacy of relationships in the world of business development and sales. Kevin highlights how 85% of purchases happen between the fifth and the twelfth interaction – that’s a lot of chats, cups of coffee and shared cocktails at industry functions before a contract is signed. Importantly he also emphasises that you absolutely need to know your stuff: who you know is number one, what you know is a close number two. So far, no disagreement on my part.
However, Kevin takes his point a step further and then suggests that industry presence, awareness and reputation is sufficient to ensure that you’ll get the business. Be active in the industry, focus on doing great work, build out a broad spectrum of experience and, in magical evangelical fashion, you’ll soon be know “by your deeds” and you’ll be able to avoid the inconvenience and expense of an open tender or pitch. “If you’re the best person, you are going to get the work” says Kevin. “If only it was that easy”, say I.
Why you must never ditch the pitch
So this is where our viewpoints start to diverge and why I believe you have to pitch.
The incentive travel sector, the “I” in MICE, is where most of my own experiences lies though I’ve also been involved over the years in association conferences, corporate meetings and “events” in general. I’ve also done a few big corporate pitches where the prize was a multi-year, multi-million euro contract.
In the incentive travel sector, traditional channels and supply chains, surprisingly, remain relatively intact. Corporations tend to work through a specialist agency (an incentive house) who in turn works through another specialist agency in the destination (the destination management company or DMC).
Within the incentive travel supply chain, the Incentive House / DMC relationship is sacrosanct, often built up over decades. It’s usually impossible to disrupt – like a rock solid, bullet proof marriage! The uncompromising primacy of the relationship along with the inflated perception of switching costs, however, often means that the Incentive House is in a relationship that may not necessarily be delivering the best destination experience available.
I’ve seen this on innumerable occasions during my time with Ovation Global DMC: Incentive Houses wedded to solid, reliable but ultimately banal and stale DMCs delivering mediocre to good programmes when they could be creating truly memorable, transformational destination experiences.
And, of course, I’ve seen the opposite too. Sometimes following a requirement of their corporate client, the Incentive House puts the programme out to bid, ends up selecting a brand new DMC and delivers their best programme ever. I have won and lost accounts in such circumstances, ie, I’ve also been the solid but stale DMC that got ousted by a significantly more creative, hungry player who rocked in and summarily ate my lunch.
My view on pitching / bidding / tendering probably stems from when Delaney and I started our DMC practice in Ireland back in the 1990s. These were the pre-procurement days and, if relationships in the incentive sector are primary now, then they were absolute. Period. There was no way around. A DMC would have to be found guilty of something unspeakable before you could dream of unseating their relationship with their incentive house. At first I respected the loyalty factor here but then I realised maybe it wasn’t loyalty at all, maybe it was a conspiracy of convenience and, God forgive me for suggesting this, laziness on the part of the incentive house?
When agencies started to “procure” (however unscientifically!) that was great news for us as a fledging start-up DMC. It meant – at least when the procurement process was genuinely honest and open – the end of “relationship” hegemony. It allowed us get in front of folks that, until then, lived behind doors firmly closed to new industry entrants. It allowed us too to examine a procurement process and decide whether or not to pitch based on the evaluation criteria set out by the commissioning agency.
So yes, I guess I am a pitch bitch. I don’t want to ditch the pitch.
I’m never found a sufficiently compelling reason NOT to submit a creative offer when a corporation or association or third party agency puts out a RFP. I’ve always weighted up the odds and even with the odds stacked against us I’ve always found enough reasons to go for it. I felt ultimately that responding to the RFP was also an opportunity to stake your claim to a place in the constellation, amongst agencies that are often much bigger and much more established than you are.
I can also report that, over the years, we won many pitches as the underdog, the total outsider. We used extreme creativity as our weapon. Not having anything to lose, we pitched weird and wonderful concepts that coloured way outside the lines. And then we had the immense satisfaction of delivering on our wanton playfulness and building our reputation as a creative organisation that didn’t rest on its laurels.
So my advice is embrace the pitch. Take every opportunity you can to challenge yourself, tweak your prowess, delve into the RFP to find the fil d’or for your response, the golden thread that links the event solution to the corporate objectives in ways that are unique and unusual, compelling and creative, delightful and decisive.
Whatever you do, don’t ditch the pitch!
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a specialist agency pitching for business in the areas of strategy, marketing & training for destinations, venues, hotels, agencies and associations. He is also Chief Marketing Officer at SITE.
This post is in part response to recent activity on Social Media instigated by excellent content on The MICE Blog, Irina Graf’s platform for discussing matters of interest to event professionals. Two articles you should read are The pitching process has evolved and