Category Archives: Pitches and troughs

Further 2008 Awards from Readers.

The inaugural Pitchcoach Awards for 2008, post before this, were received, given their highly subjective nature,  with surprising  levels of agreement.  Which was nice.  There were, however, several interesting and imaginative alternative nominations  from readers. Here are some of them.

A entirely new category was suggested, BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CRIMINAL.  Here O.J.Simpson put up a persuasive tearful defence but not as effective as the first time around. The winner, who hoodwinked police and media for weeks with an awsome, appalling performance as grieving mother, was Sharon Matthews.

A nomination for POLITICAL PERFORMER  was the articulate French Minister of Finance, Christine Legarde.  Like my winner, Boris Johnson, she has a way with words.  For example, ” France is a country that thinks too much and such obsessive thinking prevents reforms being implemented.” Vraiment!

Two names were suggested for best PERFORMANCE IN SPORT.  Both are Scots, both performing so brilliantly at their sport they don’t need to persuade us of anything.  Chris Hoy is more comfortable with bike than mike.  Andy Murray’s  sublime tennis is now simply too good for words. Or for Federer.

Ant and Dec were put forward under ENTERTAINMENT for their relaxed self-aware  personas but  these are negated  by appearances in the dismal, to me,  cockroach-crunching Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.  Another suggestion was Amy Winehouse, for unrivalled headline grabbing.  Who else in the same month in one poll was voted second “greatest ultimate heroine” and in another second “most hated”?  Already an icon.

Finally, a word  of caution.  President Bush  was not considered as the GLOBAL PERFORMER and is already best forgotten.  79% of Americans will not miss him.  However in power,  he managed for much of the time to ‘pitch’ his decisions, many of them terrible and get away with it.  As Frank Rich in the Observer says “The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda  both to the public and the press.”

Pitchcoach Award Winners 2008.


Performances during 2008 where the way someone communicated, the tone, the structure, the body language, the confidence and the charisma, are what made us really listen.


Three candidates considered. Putin who exudes a sense of controlled power  through the force of his body language, making us forget he is no longer President.  The calculated release of photographs showing him shirtless cradling a Kalashnikov, whilst a tad obvious, enhanced the perception.

The Chinese government corporately, since the individuals are largely anonymous, did a superb job of both running, and  then pitching  the Olympics. Internally to the billion plus Chinese people and externally to the rest of us, thus accelerating recognition as a (the?) world super power.

In winning firstly the nomination and then the presidency, Obama gave us an object lessson in sustained  brilliance. Has there ever been a comparable performance? ( See post dated November 3).


What a contrast.  In the first half of the year Brown was appalling.  Defensive, aggressive, unsmiling, like a chained bear flailing at Cameron’s clever thrusts. Today in a ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ transformation, he looks better, sounds better, smiles more and radiates confidence.  Now it’s Cameron who is not smiling.


Beijing saw the emergence of many sporting superstars.  Some of them natural communicators. The winner of this award,  Paralympic gold medallist swimmer, 13 year old Eleanor captivated in the pool and in the interview.  Enchanting.


Sara Palin may be a surprise nominee but her impact on arrival was significant. Her energy, in-your-face, hockey mom, pitbull outspokeness helped a tiring McCain move ahead in the polls.  But only briefly as media exposure, exposed her weaknesses. Carla Bruni, on the otherhand, frequently exposed in other ways, enhanced the profile of Sarkozy with style and elegance.

Sara Brown’s role in the second coming of Gordon was significant.  Her surprise platform appearance at the party conference charmed viewers and kick started her husband’s revival.(See post on Sept 15 and 24)


At the start of the year Cameron was making the running but he is now losing out on three fronts.  To Brown, in  his newly found ‘saving the world’ role, in the House to Vince Caborne whose assured common sense commands attention, and finally to Boris Johnson.

Boris pitched strongly to defeat Ken.  As mayor, despite some ‘unlucky’ appointees, he has communicated with authority, reinforcing the unique ‘Boris’ brand. A future Prime Minister? (Post dated June 5)


In news and current affairs the two ‘giants’, Jeremy Paxman and John Humphreys, continue in good form but would benefit from competition.  In a ‘blokey-crumpled face-next door neighbour-scouser’ way Adrian Chiles is a challenger and much loved by the BBC.   So too, seemingly, is the mannered but effectively intrusive Robert Preston.

More associated with sports progammes, the winner here is Gaby Logan.  She was the star performer of the  very many  commentators and news reporters, who outnumbered athletes, at the Games.  Naturally charming and a great listener, she draws the best out of her interviewees.


With reality style shows, it is the ‘pitching’ pundits who make or break them, not the contestants.  Big Daddy, as ever, is Simon Cowell who gets better and younger looking(?) each time.  The formidable expert entrepreuners on Dragon’s Den run him close with their sharp and abrasive critiques.  This award however goes to Cheryl Cole, oozing empathy  Geordie style.


 No one can replace Jose Morhino, the  best at the after-match since Brian Clough.  Wenger continues to winge, Fergie to chew gum brutally, Capello to fold arms austerely, Scolari to look permanently surprised and only Harry to amuse.  In rugby, Martin Johnson’s towering presence on the pitch is diminished off it.  In cricket, Kevin Peterson is playing and talking a good game but not winning much. During a lean year, the  most engaging communicator was Ronnie O’Sullivan as adept with words as with the cue.


Not surprisingly, most business and financial leaders have been somewhat muted. Now that they know, that we know, that they know no more than we do, they are keeping shtum.  A small mercy.

Here’s to 2009. When the going gets tough, the tough get pitching….


The Sarah Brown opening


In the last post, ‘this week’s pitch in  Manchester’, I anticipated that Gordon Brown’s speech would be well written, it was, and rehearsed, it was.  What I had not anticipated, no-one had, was the power and surprise of the opening.  Sarah Brown.

In the Best Practice Guide, ‘Rehearsal. The Discriminators’ (check it out),  one of the eight key things to look for when evaluating a pitch:

 ……. A POWERFUL, ATTENTION-GETTING OPENING.  “You never have a second chance to make a first impression” (Will Rogers).  Assume prospect bases decision on first five minutes.  Capture interest fast with wit and surprise……

The decision to open with Sarah Brown, and it may well have been hers, was brilliant and the impact easily met all the ‘criteria’ above.  Some press comment;  ‘In a surprise piece of stage-craft, Sarah came to the podium to rapturous applause’. ‘ Hearts melt as Sarah lends her man a charming hand’.

The value of the poweful opening in a pitch is twofold.  It starts the task of captivating the audience emotionally and, sometimes overlooked, it boosts the following performers.  There can be no doubt that Gordon’s, for him, excellent and confident delivery gained from the tremendous opening. This is reason enough to include it in the 100 Best.

Should focus groups rule?

An article by David Benady, in Marketing Week,  titled ‘the lamp-post theory of pitch research’ looks at the use of focus groups to decide who wins.  Strong views for and against were raised,  the same views that would have prevailed ten, twenty or thirty years ago.

I happen to side with the no focus group view. This has not stopped me pitching when research is in play. The reason is obvious.  In a competitive service industry, the first rule is that the client, potential or otherwise, is always right.  For the second and third rules, go back to number one.

It is nevertheless reasonable that the client should let you know  how they will assess. If they don’t, ask.  You can then decide whether, or  how, to pitch, but the problem remains.  No decision process can be set in stone.  Even with procurement attack dogs, objective evaluation criteria and impartial consultants, something  will intervene.  It’s called human nature.

It is both the fascination and the frustration of pitching.  Whim and chance do play their part.  This is why  chances of success are greatest  where insights into the nature of the decision makers are sharpest.  Before and throughout the process.

One example from personal experience, this a  6-way pitch to major French company, Saint Gobain. A formal 2 hour presentation to 20 country managers for evaluation, then 30 minutes one-on-one with the CEO.  Our insight was that he, and he alone, took the decisions.  So pitch focussed solely on  him and his concerns rather than the company at large.   The managers scored us sixth out of six.  The CEO awarded us the business.

The first Britain in space!


This story qualfies for the bizarre. It took place nearly twenty  years ago when the advent of ‘glaznost’ signalled a thaw in relations with the Soviet Union.  It started with a call from the President of the Moscow Narodny bank, based in London, one of the few commercial organisations then operating in the West.

Intrigued, I went along to a briefing  where I met General Danyev, a grizzled veteran of the Soviet military.  He  was involved in running the Soviet Space agency, at that time probably leading the US  in activity level.  During the briefing, carried out through an interpreter, the general would rub forefinger and thumb together, the universal sign for ‘money’. He was not, as I  first thought, seeking personal reward.  He was signalling a   commercial opportunity for western sponsors!

The first brief was to identify a sponsor, such as Coke, who could emblazon their brand all over the exterior of a space mission.  When scientists pointed out that thousands of degrees heat at blast-off would obliterate any branding, the general came up  with another idea.  It was to run an ad campaign to recruit  potential astronauts from the British public.

Before Saatchi’s creative work could be pitched to him there was a  9 month delay. Our London based client, the bank president, was ordered back to Moscow in one of the tit-for-tat spy scandals common at the time.

On his return, which surprised us, he was presented a campaign plan of full pages to appear once in all main newspapers,  a name, Mission  Juno,  and a totally brilliant, long bodycopy, ad written by Simon Dicketts. The headline   “ASTRONAUT WANTED. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY”.

17,000 coupon responses came in. Some 3000 were then invited to complete a detailed questionnaire. 500 were screened in interviews before a final three were selected for training at the Space Agency. One of these, Helen Sharman, became the first British cosmonaut.