Impressing at the pitch

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Web Show we are joined by Leigh Howells to discuss impressing at the client pitch.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This season of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Template Monster and Lynda. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello and welcome to, the podcast for those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name’s Paul Boag and joining me is Marcus, err… Lillington. I nearly forgot your surname!

Marcus: It’s because you were going to call me Marcus ‘Grandpops’ Lillington. That’s what you’ve been calling me the last couple of weeks.

Paul: I was going to be clever, yes and I couldn’t think of anything to be clever with. And we are also joined by Leigh…whoever the hell you are!


Leigh: At least you remember my first name. Remember me? We worked together once.

Paul: Yes, we haven’t spoken very much recently.

Marcus: You’d forgotten you’d dropped him. Leigh you’ve been dropped.

Paul: What is he… have I dropped him or has he dropped me? That’s the question.

Leigh: We’re just all too busy.

Paul: Is that what it is? I am not. Actually I am busy. That’s what I meant to say. Right so we’ve got to do a podcast thing. We ought to do one of those. It’s been ages Leigh, how are you mate?

Leigh: I’m very well, thank you.

Paul: I hear the basically the whole of Headscape is now hanging off of your ability to deliver on twenty-four different projects simultaneously.

Leigh: I am working on quite a few projects and they are all kind of similar.

Paul: Oh that’s useful. So just reuse?

Leigh: You’d think so. But they are different and similar. So it’s hard to distinguish one from another which is a recipe for disaster for me.

Paul: You probably shouldn’t be saying that, should you?


Leigh: Nobody listens to this.

Paul: Oh no, that’s true, I forgot.

Marcus: I let you off one project today didn’t I Leigh.

Leigh: Yeah. It’s also because all the projects have three letters for acronyms.

Paul: Oh yeah, what is it with Headscape and acronyms? All of your clients are acronyms.

Leigh: And they have all got ‘F’s in them and they all have got similar sections in them and yeah, but they are all different. There are people to make sure I don’t mix things up.

Paul: Is this a new kind of criteria? You only take on clients who have acronyms? Is that your new speciality?

Leigh: I thought it had always been that way.

Marcus: It has actually always been that way, hasn’t it? There are a few exceptions.

Leigh: There were lots of ‘E’s at one point. And now there’s lots of ‘F’s.

Marcus: It’s like QI, we are moving through the alphabet. We will have lots of ‘G’s soon.

Paul: Talking of QI and moving through the alphabet, I’ve been thinking about the next season of the podcast. I just think I want to do a season about cool stuff I’ve learnt recently. I am going through an eat, drink, read everything stage. It’s really, really cool.

Leigh: It’s a thirst for knowledge? Is that what it is Paul?

Paul: Well no. It’s gadgetry. I’ve rediscovered the Kindle.

Marcus: Oh I love the Kindle. Then you were crying about it on Facebook because it had a little scratch.

Paul: Do you know what? Amazon have been absolutely amazing. This is good User Experience. So first of all I buy this Kindle and I’ve got excited about Kindle because I forgot what it was like to read on a Kindle rather than on a screen. And I convinced myself that it doesn’t make that much difference does it really? But I find that I read a lot longer on a Kindle than I would ever do on a screen and not because my eyes get tired. But something subconsciously stops me reading on a screen after a long length of time. Anyway that’s beside the point.

Marcus: I am reading a proper old fashioned book at the moment. Because pages bend and stuff like that, whereas the Kindle is fantastic. I love my Kindle.

Paul: Kindle’s are really good. Anyway, so this story of Customer Service. So I got a Kindle and I bought the one which has special offers on, you pay less and you get an advertisement.

Leigh: Cheapskate Paul, cheapskate.

Paul: Because years ago I saw it and it was fine, but they’ve changed it now and it was really annoying when you got it. And it’s like you have to do an extra swipe to get to content and it annoyed me. So I rang them up and said ‘Oh can I exchange this for one without special offers?’ And they said, ‘Oh don’t worry Sir, we’ll just turn it off for you’. And they turned it off for me. How awesome is that?

And it gets better. I managed to scratch the thing within like a week of owning it, which I was bleating and moaning about on Facebook and Twitter. So I rang them up to ask if there was anything I could do about it, whether you could get it replaced or repaired or whatever. And they said, ‘Oh we’ll send you a new one’.

Leigh: Do you know what? That’s been my experience of Amazon Customer Service. The first slightest thing, they’ll send you a new one!

Paul: I know!

Leigh: I did a Live Chat which I hadn’t realised existed but that seems to be the best way to get hold of anybody.

Paul: Absolutely.

Leigh: And straight away, we’ll send you a new one.

Marcus: Really?

Leigh: Done it about three times!

Paul: So I got the new one through and it had the special offers enabled on it again so I used the Live Chat like you said, and asked ‘Can I be cheeky…’ and they turned it off again. How cool is that?

Leigh: Brilliant. Because I went from thinking that Amazon is so big that I would never get through to anybody who could help me, to discovering Live Chat to thinking ‘Oh this is easy, this is great’

Marcus: Whoever is making these decisions, it’s just genius. They know they have won and taken over the world if whenever you want to buy anything you think ‘I am going to buy that on Amazon’. And you do it because you trust them. And if you trust them, and they have excellent Customer Service, that’s it. They have total world domination. Because nobody really trusts Apple anymore do they? They are a bit underhand.

Paul: Yes, Apple are losing it, but Amazon seem to be building it.

Marcus: Yes, so genius.

Paul: I know, and I’ll even pay more now to buy something on Amazon because I know I will get it next day and I know for some reason if I don’t like it, or there’s a problem with it that they’ll exchange it with no hassle whatsoever.

Leigh: Because that’s the last thing they had to tackle. If you get it from a local shop you can always take it back. But if you can just Live Chat and they’ll send you a new one, and pick up the old one, that’s even easier than going to the shop and replacing it. So they’ve cracked the final barrier.

Paul: So now everything is just…. Yeah. Amazon. It was Ryan Taylor that said it last Christmas. He said ‘If I can’t buy it from Amazon, you’re not getting a Christmas present’.


And I thought that sums it up brilliantly. That’s how I feel.

Marcus: I think that’s really sad though. Like properly sad.

Leigh: What’s sad is when it arrives and it’s been sent as a gift, so they’ve never even seen it. I find that a bit wrong. You have no idea what’s been sent to somebody.

Marcus: May as well just send them an Amazon voucher and that’s the shittiest present there is.

Paul: See now I would be really pleased with an Amazon voucher.

Transcriber edit: That’s your Christmas present sorted

Leigh: Actually so would I. Moonpig card and Amazon voucher.

Paul: Easily pleased we are. But the other thing I’ve discovered about the Kindle is connecting it with Instapaper. Because I used to use Instapaper years and years ago. And then Pocket came along that was better and nicer and I moved across to Pocket. But now I’ve gone back to Instapaper and it’s amazing. It will read articles to you when you are in the car driving. It will send like a Magazine to your kindle, so you can keep up on all your posts. It’s brilliant. And that’s how I am keeping up on everything. I am churning through stuff.

Leigh: Are they sponsoring us Paul?

Paul: No they are not. They should do, damn them! What Instapaper or Amazon, or both?

Leigh: Both. I’m been using Readability. Am I really out of it?

Paul: Ohhh yeah. Nobody uses Readability.

Leigh: I do.

Paul: Are you living in the 1920’s?


Leigh: ‘Writes down Instapaper’.

Paul: Instapaper, seriously. It’s where you want to go now. It’s where all the cool kids are.

So yes, there’s that. Talking of sponsors.

Marcus: No Paul, you were going to say about what the next series is going to be.

Paul: Did I not say? No I did. It was going to be whatever pops into my head each week.

Marcus: With guests again?

Paul: With guests yes. So we’ll have a guest on every week and we’ll just talk about whatever is of interest to us over the last week. At the moment I am going through a Zero UI phase. So what’s going to happen….

Oh Kiera is…. I am doing something important Kier. ‘Go away, I am recording podcast’. See that will amuse him. I’ll give him a smiley face to show him I am not cross. See I am hip with the kids.

Marcus: Kiera isn’t one of the kids, come on.

Paul: No he’s not. But you can be as blunt and aggressive as you want now, as long as you put an emoticon after it. It’s true. I can tell you mean things if I want to.

So I am into Zero UI at the moment because I am reading a book The best interface is no interface. It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. It’s talking about all the ways that currently at the moment we have an app for everything. It gives a great example in this book about how there is an app now that unlocks your car for you. So you walk up to your car, and instead of getting out a set of keys, putting it in and opening the car, job done. You now have to get out your phone, swipe to unlock it, go to your home screen, then you have to find a BMW app and then you have to find the unlock function and press that and it then unlocks your car. How much more convenient is that?

Marcus: Well not having a key is not having to lose keys is an advantage of that I guess.

Paul: But then he’s talking about things like ‘Why can’t you just walk up to your car and put your hand on the door handle and it senses that someone’s there, it then checks to see if your smart phone which is registered with it is in your pocket and if it is, then it opens the door.

Marcus: That’s still a UI of a form though isn’t it? You still have to touch, touch it?

Paul: What he’s saying though is getting beyond the screen. So things like Siri would be an example. It’s a new form of UI. So it’s all that kind of stuff. Whatever I’ve been reading the previous week. Have you seen about the Disney Magic Bands? Have you heard about these?

Marcus: Hmm it rings a bell actually.

Paul: So they’ve spent like one billion refitting the whole of Disney so now you wear these bands when you go in and they have got RDF chips in. So let’s say you go for a meal, you can book your meal using an app or a website or whatever else. And then you go to the Disney restaurant and as you walk up the guy on the door gets a notification saying ‘Mr and Mrs Jones is walking up’ and so they can greet you buy name.

Marcus: Well it would be wrong then, because your name is Boag?


Paul: Oh you are so funny. And then you can go in….

Leigh: This is what Paul does. He turns up as Mr and Mrs Jones. Now we know.


Paul: Well that’s a whole other story. Well you go in and you sit wherever you want, and you go and sit and they know where you are in the restaurant to bring you the food.

Leigh: That’s only like car registration plate recognition where you roll up places and they identify you and the screen says ‘Hello Leigh’ and it’s all there and another person gets fired.

Paul: Yes. It’s all about firing people. But actually I think it’s a really exciting area where you don’t have to….

Leigh: It’s personal ID, so you are wearing your number plate so they can recognise who you are and pre-empt everything.

Marcus: Anyway, that sounds quite interesting.

Paul: Yes, it’s a really good book and also what’s really great about him—he should be British, but he’s not, he’s American—is that it’s a sarcastic, rude, funny book and it’s the only time I have ever read a book about my work that has made me laugh out loud. He is laugh out loud funny in this book. He labours the point a little bit, but he’s so funny doing it that it’s just brilliant. It’s a really good book. Highly recommend it. And no I’m not getting sponsored by them.

Leigh: Whats his name?

Paul: No idea, but the book is called The best interface is no interface.

Leigh: Hang on, was it Golden Krishna?

Paul: Yes, that’s the guy, how did I forget his name?

Leigh: That’s quite unforgettable.

Paul: I don’t think it can be his real name. Or if it is, then his parents are the most awesome people on the planet.

Leigh: Golden.

Paul: That’s brilliant. I wish I was called Golden. I’d make a good Golden. Golden Boag.

Hey, yes. So. Can I talk about sponsors?

Marcus: You can now.

Paul: Oh no, no, no.

Marcus: Oh, no you can’t.

Paul: Before I do… surveys. Have people completed the Boagworld survey yet? You need to go to We really want your feedback. When you say it like that, it sounds so crap. I’m seriously looking to improve the newsletter and the podcast and it feels like I need to take stock of the things that I am doing.

Leigh: What you mean to say is ‘Help me make it better!’

Paul: Yeah. It’s kind of now I have thrown off the shackles of Headscape and I am embracing this brave new world, I need to know the direction that I am going with this kind of stuff, so please fill in this survey.

Marcus: That translates as ‘I want to do even less, so what do I HAVE to do, and what can I get away with’

Paul: Yeah. That’s spot on. It’s like one of the questions I ask is how often should the Newsletter come out and if you could select the ‘once-a-year’ option then that would be great.


Right, can I please do the sponsor now?

Marcus: You can.

Paul: Template Monster. Right? Template Monster help us out with the questions each week, they help pay for the transcription that keeps the podcast accessible. Now I’ve been banging on for weeks and weeks about their huge library of templates, about 46,000. But this week I want to do something different because they have launched something that you should check out purely based on the name. Because it’s called Monstroid. That is the coolest name for anything. It doesn’t matter what it is now. You should just check it out because it’s called Monstroid.

What they’ve done is—this looks really good for people like me because I don’t build websites anymore, it’s too much hard work—Mondstroid. So Monstroid is basically a really flexible WordPress template. It almost feels a little bit like a WordPress equivalent of SquareSpace on steroids. Is that a thing? That can be a thing.

So it’s a really, really flexible WordPress template, and you can manage the layout in a modular way. It would be great for prototyping Leigh. You’d really like it for that.

Leigh: Yep that went through my head.

Paul: So all of this is driven by a whole chunk of different plug ins. And the minute they said that I went ‘Ohhhh… lots of plug ins…’

Leigh: Is that a good ‘Ohhh’?

Paul: No, that’s a bad ‘Ohhh’. That’s going to screw performance and blah-blah. But you only load the plug-ins you need. If you don’t want a certain piece of functionality you haven’t got all this redundant crap in there. So it looks really well coded, even like things like the CSS, you don’t have separate CSS files for each of the plug-ins which drives me nuts about plug-ins when they load their own CSS file. It’s all brought in together in a single CSS file that’s then minimized and it’s the same with JavaScript and all the rest. It looks really well built and it’s been really well optimised to be fast. It’s got WooCommerce integrated into it, which if you know anything about eCommerce, it’s a really solid eCommerce platform that can be integrated into WordPress. So all that’s built in if you need to do eCommerce. It’s got 24/7 support and again they’ve got the whole instant response via Live Chat thing that Amazon have got going. Which I’ve become a great fan of, because you don’t have to speak to another human being. Which is good, isn’t it?

Leigh: You don’t have to be in the mood.

Paul: And it’s really good as well, because let’s face it, you sometimes get put through to call centres where their spoken English isn’t the best. But their written English is always superb so they understand you if it’s written down, so it’s much better. And in addition to that, you can be much more cheeky and say ‘I want this for free’ where you perhaps wouldn’t say that to someone’s face.

Leigh: Please can I have a replacement? It’s so easy to type.

Paul: It’s easy to type, it’s harder to say face-to-face.

Leigh: There’s nothing to lose, type it in.

Paul: Yes, absolutely. What the hell? So they’ve got that which is really great and you can learn more about them at… Now it’s different. Usually its now if you want to know about normal Template Monster offerings then use that URL. But if you want to find out about Monstroid go to which is M-o-n-s-t-r-o-i-d. There you go.

Marcus: It sounds like something nasty that you’d have to go and see the doctor about. ‘I’ve got a bad case of Monstroids’.


Paul: I thought it kind of screamed Godzilla to me. I was thinking some bad Japanese B movie. Godzilla vs Monstroid. It’s true. They’ve got a lovely logo as well. And their website’s quite nice and they’ve got all the ‘let’s animate things and move them in’ all that kind of stuff.

Leigh: You being paid by the minute Paul?

Paul: No? Oh should we move on? Sorry, have I spent too long on this?

Discussion about pitching

Paul: What are we going to talk about? Shall we talk about something?

Marcus: This is Leigh’s special subject. This is what he would be doing on Mastermind, this subject.

Leigh: I have been waiting for this day.

Paul: Because we have been talking about winning pitches, right? Leigh. You haven’t the best track record in this, have you? Is it getting better?

Leigh: Not really. It did get better this year, yes.

Marcus: Well Leigh was on 12 – 0, weren’t you I think? Or 10 – 0 and now he’s on either 12 – 2 or 10 – 2 because he had two wins.

Paul: So he’d been to twelve pitches? And never won one of them?

Marcus: Something like that.

Paul: That is incredible.

Leigh: Something around that, yeah.

Paul: What do you do? Do you walk in the room and take a dump on the table or something?

Leigh: I smack them in the face. No I think I just get sent to the no-hopers? Don’t know?

Paul: Oh I see, so it’s not your fault? It’s that we send you to the wrong ones?

Leigh: I don’t actually know. I think it’s a mixture of… yeah…. unlikely’s and all kinds of different… obviously nothing to do with me, never. There is always a factor that is….

Paul: Beyond your control? See I looked at the list of topics this year and I thought ‘If we are going to have Leigh on one, it has to be this one’.

Leigh: We can just laugh at Leigh for an episode.

Marcus: But your record this year is… I was going to say 100% but I don’t think it’s 100% is it?

Leigh: I would say it was three this year actually?

Marcus: You’ve had three?

Leigh: Two and a half, no three. Definitely three.

Marcus: Three out of four? See that’s better than mine.

Leigh: Yes, three out of four.

Paul: See, perhaps I was always the problem, Leigh. Now that I have left Headscape, you are now the pitch master.

Marcus: You are the Pitch-meister!

Leigh: There is something to be said for when you go to a pitch with somebody who you have expected to do all the work, that you may not have done quite as much yourself, so you are probably not going to come across as good as you could have done. So if you are left…not to your own devices because I have Marcus and Chris… but I’ve made sure I have been a lot more prepared this year. But I don’t think that’s got anything to do with anything, I think it’s just been luck. But it does help to be properly prepared and don’t rely on people.

Paul: So this brings us, we’ll actually do a question now. Twenty minutes into this show and we’ll have a question. So first question. ‘Should you push for these kinds of face-to-face client meetings or if the client doesn’t want it, should we not bother?’ Marcus do you have an opinion on this?

Marcus: I do. As we discussed last week I think meeting with the client before you put together any kind of proposal is more useful than having an official pitch. So it depends what you mean by the question. What is meant by that question? If you mean should you meet someone before you start working for them, then yes, absolutely. Do you have to go through a formal pitch with them, no you don’t. Because there is a lot of work that normally has to go into a pitch, a lot of energy that goes into it. So if people are willing to have a nice chat with you and they give you a decent brief and you respond to that and they make the decisions based on having an initial meeting and proposal….

Paul: And I guess it depends on what you mean by a pitch meeting anyway? A pitch meeting could be a formal presentation in front of a board of assessors or it could be a chat over a coffee in Starbucks.

Marcus: It could, yes.

Leigh: That’s much nicer.

Marcus: Those ones, when you walk in the room and there’s fifteen people…

Leigh: And you go ‘Oh no…..’

Paul: I don’t mind those ones, it’s moving past… my problem with formal presentations is that it should be a conversation, it should be a discussion, which is what you really need, isn’t it? Because that’s where you build the relationship that we’ve talked about on previous shows. That’s where you make a connection with people. If you just ‘here’s my PowerPoint presentation and we’re going to move to slide 53…’ it’s not really…

Marcus: People hire people.

Paul: Yep. Absolutely.

Marcus: I can’t remember who said that, somebody said that.

Paul: Someone amazing. I think Joe said it last week.

Marcus: And it’s absolutely true. They don’t only hire people. If you are the nicest and get-on-able person and your offering is rubbish then you are not going to win it. But if every offering is much of a muchness then they are going to hire people they want to work with.

Paul: Talking of which then, who should we be taking to pitches? Because this is always a big one, isn’t it?

Leigh: Me!

Marcus: Take Leigh to pitches, he’s lucky.


Paul: He is now.

Marcus: Erm… I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t… quite often you get asked to bring the team who will be working on the project along to the pitch, which in our case is usually four people, sometimes five. Obviously not working on it all together at the same time, but let’s say there are four people involved. I think it’s not the best use of your resources to take four people away from working for a day. And what will normally happen is two out of those four people will sit there and maybe say three words. So how is the client learning anything about who they are going to be working with other than to say they exist?

I’ve tried to get round this in the past by including photographs of people in proposals because that makes them real and I’ve suggested that people join on Skype in pitches which has happened once or twice although that’s a bit risky because it might not work properly. But basically I think you need to get a couple, two people is ideal because then they can bounce off each other, they can take it in turns to deal with questions and different parts of the presentation if you are giving a presentation. I’ve done many presentations on my own and I always feel I am short changing people a bit. Some of which have been successful, and some of which haven’t. But I think two is great. Two says to whoever it is that you are pitching to, that we value you enough to send more than one person and you’ve got 100% more personality than if it was only one of us, to judge us on. So I think two is ideal.

Paul: I’ve got sympathy mind, for clients over this. Because it can be, often the salesman is rolled out for these meetings and maybe the superstar also goes along, and then you don’t end up working with those people. So it’s a difficult one. But I can understand the other side of it as well which says that they designers and developers need to be working on client work. That’s what they are paid for, so it’s a difficult one. I think you want to see the primary point of contact at the meeting. That would be a big one for me, wouldn’t it be for you?

Marcus: It depends who that is.

Paul: The project manager, for example.

Marcus: Although Headscape is about to have a new Project Manager which is lovely, we didn’t have one for the last three/four/five months and Leigh, Chris and myself have been sharing the project management. So that was easy from a pitch point of view. One of us would go. Normally it was myself and Leigh or Leigh and Chris. But I don’t know. Isn’t that a bit mean on Project Managers? Rolling them out every time to be the person who talks about creative stuff?

Leigh: They’ve got to be a sales person as well though, haven’t they? They’ve got to be able to sell and get ideas and be knowledgeable, so they can’t just be good at project managing.

Paul: Because I am now a bit more on the other side of the equation where I am now mentoring and working alongside clients and actually helping some of them write briefs and all of this kind of stuff and it’s given me a bit of a different perspective on it. If we are saying people buy from people, what is key to a successful project is actually the relationships. That’s what makes a project work. And you may come along Marcus, to a pitch and I may think you are wonderful, or I may hate you deeply but actually that’s not going to have any impact whatsoever on my project.

Marcus: Where I was going with that was that it’s been really easy for us for the last three or four months, because basically if we get some kind of enquiry or a proposal needs writing, either I will write it or Chris writes it. And if that ends up going to become a pitch type of thing either myself or Chris will go to that pitch along with somebody else from the team. It’s been Leigh mostly. And I’ve been able to stand up and say ‘I will work on this project. I will be project managing this project. Leigh will be doing some of the design work on the project. The people you are meeting today will be working on the project’. So that’s a really strong thing to be able to say in a pitch situation. I am just realising because we have got Emma joining us on Wednesday it’s kind of like, the more people you’ve got within the agency the harder that becomes and the more likely it is that somebody’s going to go to a pitch and they are not going to be working on it and that isn’t great. I agree with what you are saying Paul.

Paul: And I guess that’s actually quite a nice advantage of being a smaller team. And of hiring smaller teams. If you go with a big London agency who have lots of different people then you probably aren’t going to meet the team and that’s a bigger challenge and is a bigger issue. But also I think there is a degree where with a smaller team, even if you are not meeting the people that are maybe doing the vast majority of work on the project, because it is a small team there is a culture. Do you know what I mean? And so meeting Marcus, gives you a flavour of the entire team even if Marcus isn’t going to be doing the hands-on work.

Anyway, so have we talked about who should be there, but what goes into a pitch? Is it a matter of just covering what was in the proposal, or should you be doing something different? That’s an interesting one.

Marcus: Two things I think that you need to consider here which is, firstly I always ask people what would you like us to cover?

Paul: Good idea.

Marcus: But what I am saying to them, the second thing to add to that is where do you think we are lacking? Where do we need to provide more information in addition to what we provided in the proposal? And not only will that then tell you what to present, it will also give you an idea of where you need to talk up. They might see something which you are actually really good at, as a weakness because you haven’t dealt with it well in the proposal. So it’s an opportunity to really talk up something that you are good at.

The second thing that needs to go in…erm I have got a mind blank.

Paul: I tell you what, I’ll add in while you are thinking.

Marcus: I am hungover today by the way, that’s why I have got a mind blank. I had my mate Phil’s stag do on Saturday night.

Paul: But it’s now 4.00pm on Monday afternoon?

Marcus: I know. I feel a bit cold sweats, hot sweats. It’s not nice. And I can’t think what the next word is.

Paul: Well what I was going to say about it was that you can’t make the presumption that everyone has read the proposal either which is a difficult one.

Marcus: That’s a good point. Yes, a very good point. You could ask them ‘has everyone read the proposal?’

Paul: I think your point about actually having a conversation about the pitch is a really important thing and I love the thing about weaknesses. I have never thought of that. Because you always just told me what I had to go in and talk about. I never thought about how you found that out or decided it.

Marcus: I remember what the other thing is. Is, do something creative. It might be… I don’t know what it might be. In the olden days it was three different designs of a homepage. We don’t do that anymore. But something that shows that we understand your brief and this is a way we might want to start dealing with that.

Leigh: Yeah, that’s the difference between the pitches I’ve been to this year. At every one I’ve done something, whether it’s some speculative thing… I think it just shows your enthusiasm for the project, you accept that it might get thrown away and maybe not the right way to do things, but here is some ideas just to get the ball rolling. It shows that you’ve taken the time and you’ve thought about it, and you care. Although that went against us in one of them as they thought it was too soon to be making decisions about design. So you can’t win.

Paul: That’s a difficult one because you know I am not a huge fan of that kind of stuff, but what I am a fan of is having some ideas up my sleeve.

Leigh: Doing something means that you can stand up and start talking about design. Design that relates to them.

Marcus: It might be Information Architecture, it might be a way of simplifying what they’ve got. It might be just a sort of rundown of what we think is wrong superficially with the site and how we might be able to change that and that can be one slide.

Paul: Or what a competitor is doing well, or what we did for another client, or sites out there that are doing innovative things.

Marcus: Yes, something creative, basically.

Paul: It’s having that little thing up your sleeve that you can pull out that makes you memorable, that wasn’t in the proposal, that is that little extra, isn’t it?

Marcus: Yes.

Paul: This is a funny question, but I thought I’ll include it anyway. ‘Does your appearance matter?’

Leigh: Yes.

Marcus: Yes, it does.

Paul: The rule of thumb—I think it was you that came up with this, you said it to me years ago—that you want to be slightly smarter than the people in the room. How you work that out I’ve never gotten to the bottom of, but you can make an educated guess.

Marcus: I think that’s right, but because I am older and probably a bit lazier than I used to be, I now want to be dressed in a way that no one will notice. So I am not making some kind of statement with the T-shirt I am wearing and my ripped jeans and I am also not stiffly sat in a suit and a tie, I am somewhere in between. I am nothing. What I am wearing is so kind of irrelevant it becomes something to the point it doesn’t matter. But it does matter. There are things that you can wear that do matter.

Leigh: You don’t want to be pigeon-holed as some kind of stiff in a suit, or some developer T-shirt looking ape. Just something smart but which will blend into the background. But then you want to be memorable as well.

Paul: It is a very difficult one, because you can go to extremes. You can’t go to either extreme because you can be too smart. You can look too slick.

Marcus: Yes, you can definitely look too corporate and particularly in the sphere that we inhabit, we are seen as designers, creative, and designers are meant to turn up in polo sweaters or whatever and not suits and ties, basically. That’s what lawyers and accountants wear. So that’s not appropriate wear. But equally if people are spending a lot of money, so we are making a statement in how casual we are, then that could go against you.

Paul: Yes, I agree.

In terms of preparation for a pitch, because I need to ask really you Marcus, because I never really did much preparation, you did it all for me. So what kind of preparation do you put into a pitch? You’ve already said you talk to the clients beforehand to find out what they want. You put together a presentation normally.

Marcus: And I put a lot of effort into that. As do you Paul. You put lots of effort into presentations over the years, because they are the crutch and that’s the thing you lean on. And it reminds you as well. And as we were discussing proposals, should proposals look good, are they designed well, does it matter? And I think it does. It won’t win you the pitch if the presentation looks good, but it might lose you it, and so yes effort goes into the presentation. Definitely.

Paul: Anything else you do?

Marcus: I suppose you could rehearse your presentation, but I’ve never done that.

Paul: Ohhh that puts needles through my eyes.

Marcus: I hate doing it, so I would rehearse a presentation if I was doing one at a conference but not at a pitch, because it’s a chat.

Paul: See that’s the other thing, with rehearsing a presentation, if you’ve rehearsed something so many times that it becomes almost second nature, the trouble is that you get into a flow on it. And actually one of the things I think is important and one of the things we always say is ‘Look, feel free to interrupt me’. And to leave gaps for people to interrupt. And you ask people ‘Is this making sense’ and all those kind of things.

Because that brings us onto the next question ‘Are there any tips and tricks to make sure the client remembers you?’ I don’t know about the ‘remembers me’ bit, but one of the tips and tricks I always do, is that I always ask ‘Is this making sense?’ And I ask that because I want to know the answer to it, but I also ask it because you want to get people nodding and to get them agreeing with you, because that it warms them towards you. As does humour. Having a bit of humour and empathising as well is the other thing that I think is really important. I often ask ‘How many people are you seeing today’ partly because I want to know how many people I am up against, but also because sometimes they say things like ‘Oh well, we are doing eight today’ and you can go ‘Oh bliming heck, you must be really knackered, that’s a lot to do’ and you can empathise with them and the process and the challenges they face and build a bit of rapport with people.

Marcus: Yes absolutely. I certainly agree about getting them to talk about whatever it is that you’ve got up on the screen. Some things obviously won’t be particularly relevant but we were talking earlier about doing a bit creative – get a discussion going on there because then you can maybe fill in the blanks that you didn’t do about as part of your preparation and there are more nods and then people start saying ‘When we work together’.

Leigh: Do you actually say that?

Marcus: No, when they say it. I wouldn’t dream of saying that.

Paul: They do say it.

Marcus: Some people do, and you can tell they are so into what you are saying, you can just see them thinking ‘Yep. You’re the ones, we want to work with you’. And you can start to hear them saying ‘When’s’ not ‘If’s’. That’s always a good sign.

Paul: And you do have to pay attention to things like body language as well. I’ve before now seen someone sitting there. Do you know what I mean? The quiet person who are at the edge of it that’s glowering and looking very uncomfortable. And I will actually say to them, I will try and engage with them in some way. I won’t say ‘What’s your problem?’ But I will say to them ‘You look unsure about this. Have you got a question?’ And I am not afraid to ask questions of them either. To help to understand where they are coming from and what they are thinking about and those kinds of things. I think that’s perfectly acceptable to do. I am just trying to think of other random tips…

Oh I know another good one! Is to be willing to say you don’t know. And not bullshit it.

Leigh: Yeah, I am bad at that.


Leigh: That’s a measure of your own confidence isn’t it. To be able to say no. It just looks stupid if you try to bullshit it.

Paul: Well the trouble is, sometimes it can be totally the right thing to do. For example, often times in these meetings there will be another designer/developer person in the room that is slightly pissed off that it’s going out to tender. And it becomes a bit of a pissing contest of them trying to ask you questions that you won’t be able to answer just to prove their own worth. Which I can totally understand actually. I would probably feel equally alienated in that situation. And actually the best thing you can do is say ‘Hey you really know your stuff, I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head, I will go away and find out’ which has got to be the default answer to ‘I don’t know’.

Marcus: Yes absolutely. But make sure you get back to them the same day.

Paul: Yes. As quickly as possible.

Marcus: It’s really important. Because quite often people will have a series of pitches, two or three and they will sit around and meet straight afterwards so be aware of that.

Paul: And I think it gives you some credibility and honesty when you say ‘I don’t know’. Which I think is important to do. And talking of that, I think it’s ok to challenge a client as well. Not challenge aggressively.

Marcus: ‘I challenge you to a duel’

Paul: Yes. But that whole thing of ‘In the brief you asked for this and of course we could do that, but this is how we would deliver that’ so you’d lay out what they are asking for but then say ‘But have you considered maybe taking this approach instead?’ That’s fine and that’s perfectly acceptable to do and I think a face-to-face meeting is a good place to do that kind of stuff.

Marcus: I agree.

Leigh: But not too critical. I know for a fact that we lost one because we criticise something that was already in existence which was going to carry on being used. And that didn’t go down well because the person who owned that was in the room and it got their back up a bit. It wasn’t good to be honest.

Marcus: So therefore we’re better off without it Leigh.

Paul: Yes, there is an element of that. If you can’t be honest about stuff do you really want it?

Marcus: Yes exactly.

Paul: It’s difficult isn’t it. This is a good one. ‘Some people seem to be purposefully confrontational in pitches. It’s often an MD or someone very senior who’s very blunt. How do you deal with them?’ Marcus I think you should answer this, because my way of dealing with them is to be blunt and confrontational back which is maybe not the best approach.

Marcus: Erm, I will throw our experience back at them and remind them how long we’ve been doing whatever it is we are there to pitch for. And deal with the question, because they will be confrontational with a question, but deal with it but then I’ll go off on some tangent usually about how long we’ve been working, how many long term relationships we’ve had with our clients, that we’ve got an international audience, all that kind of thing.

Paul: So building up credibility.

Marcus: Exactly. And I will normally say to them if I am feeling a little bit cheeky then I’d say ‘It’s your job to be throwing us the curve balls, Mr CEO’.

Leigh: Or Mrs CEO?

Paul: Very good Leigh.

Marcus: Just to sort of say, again that’s credibility. I have been round the block, I know this sort of thing. We can be mates, you can trust me, that kind of thing. How that helps a young person who’s just coming into this, maybe take Paul’s attitude and just be blunt back.

Paul: That’s a big gamble what I do. And it either is spectacularly successful or horribly inappropriate.

Marcus: It doesn’t always work, does it Paul?

Paul: It will go one way or the other. You’ll either definitely win it, or you’ll definitely lose it. There will be no in-between. I have mellowed a bit with age. Just a little bit. I avoid that now. Yeah reputation is always a good one, falling back on that kind of side of things and just being very matter of fact and honest about stuff as well.

Marcus: And yes, I suppose the final point in the long rambling tangent that I would go off on would be ‘speak to our clients’. Speak to other people we’ve worked with and ask the same questions of them. And that’s the best thing you can say to somebody who is trying to trip you up with hard questions.

Paul: And it’s ok to say ‘Do you know what? I don’t know?’ Or ‘I can’t think of an answer off the top of my head, I would need to do some research into that’. Those kind of answers I think are useful sometimes as it takes the wind out of people’s sails. They’ve won in their little positioning battle or whatever they are doing. And letting them win is ok sometimes. Some people feel the need to be Alpha male and you let them be Alpha male if they need to be.

Marcus: Yep, absolutely.

Paul: Ok.

Marcus: What’s next?

Paul: Yeah, I think we’ve kind of… what do you mean ‘What’s next’, Marcus? You know what’s next. Trying to transition there? What’s going on? Are you confronting me Marcus?

Marcus: Are there any more questions? Or have we got to the end of it?

Paul: We’ve kind of done it, yes. There weren’t as many questions this week. I think pitching is a definite art form but it quite a hard one to teach. Do you know what I mean?

Marcus: You have to do twelve pitches first and then you might win one. Know what I mean Leigh?

Leigh: Yes, no bugger has ever taught me how to do that. They are all different. They are all very different from big panels of procurement exercises where you know everyone is ticking boxes to a casual chat around the table. You never know what to expect either.

Paul: It is worth asking who’s going to be there.

Marcus: Oh definitely.

Paul: Because then at least you know you are going to walk into a room of twenty people.

Leigh: I hate to be terrified before I walk in. Perhaps that is my biggest problem. Being terrified does not help.

Paul: Does it terrify you?

Leigh: It does.

Marcus: Awww, poor Leigh. I feel mean now.

Leigh: It’s quite terrifying.

Paul: I think a big part of it—this sounds terrible—is to not care too much.

Marcus: 100%

Leigh: Yes, if you care too much….

Marcus: Also the ‘We have to win it, otherwise it’s going to be the end of the business’ then that will come across and you are not going to win it.

Leigh: You have got to be relaxed as much as you can.

Marcus: Not caring isn’t the right word. It’s just accepting that sometimes it isn’t always going to be you and that’s the way it is.

Paul: And the trouble is remembering that it’s not a popularity contest. A lot of people… the reason they are so nervous going into pitches is that they feel if they fail it’s some kind of reflection on them as a human being, or their capabilities. But the truth is there is all kinds of reasons why you won’t win a piece of work which has nothing whatsoever to do with you. There could be an existing relationship there. It could be that sometimes just one person is in a bad mood in your particular pitch can throw it off. It sometimes could be one misplaced thing that you said where in another situation it would have been fine. There are so many tangents. I think it’s almost recognising it’s a situation where you are not in control and that’s quite freeing once you realise that you cannot control the situation. You cannot make it work. You can do your best but that’s as much as you can do.

Leigh: Yeah. Good advice.

Paul: Of course it is. I am giving it. Right ok, although Marcus I think you are far more successful in these things than I am.

Marcus: I don’t know about that. We used to be a good team.

Paul: Oh it’s sad isn’t it. I miss you.

Paul: Let’s talk about our sponsor before we start blubbing. Let’s talk about [Lynda]!( Three thousand on demand video courses on business, creativity, technical skills. All of that kind of good stuff. A great place to learn about new skills. Like for example winning pitches. I had a little look through and typing in pitches wasn’t particularly helpful because I got a load of courses about audio editing and pitching. So that kind of messed it up. There is loads of stuff on audio editing on there which is actually really useful.

Marcus: That’s really harsh.

Paul: Marcus I think you could do with watching a few of those.

Marcus: Really? Why?

Paul: Well last week’s podcast was a bit dodge wasn’t it?

Marcus: Well yes, that was because of the quality of what I was given.

Paul: Ahh yes, a workman always blames his tools.

Leigh: I have noticed actually that this podcast has the longest intro and outro ever.

Marcus: All right, I will make it shorter.

Paul: Oh when Leigh said it you listen. I’ve been saying that to you for like, well since 2005.

Leigh: That’s the problem when the audio editor did the music. ‘Listen to me! More, more! Fade out? No we won’t fade out yet. Let’s give it another 30 seconds!’

Marcus: Most people turn off by the time you get to the music at the end. It doesn’t matter how long the music is at the end.

Paul: No the end’s fine. You can go on as long as you want at the end, but the beginning should be like a snappy kind of 10 second thing.

Marcus: I think I have done four maybe five different intros for the podcast. And I have definitely done shorter versions for at least two of them. So I am sure I can do one for this one.

Paul: They’ve never been that short.

So anyway, there is loads of stuff about audio on there, but there is also some great ones on pitching on it. Obviously we only scratch the surface of stuff. has got loads more. It’s got ‘Pitching products to Executives’ which is good whether you are in house or external. ‘Craft your pitch’, ‘Structure your pitch’, ‘Pitch your work’, ‘Pitching to clients’, ‘Pitching to investors’ it just goes on and on. They’ve got so much on there, it’s amazing. Obviously you can watch them on demand, you pay one flat fee pretty much like Netflix or whatever else and you can learn at your own pace and work through the whole thing.

You can get a ten day free trial using the website address so check that out and you will be much more educated than you will be listening to this podcast.

So next week. Nurturing repeat business we are talking about next week which shall be cool. And we’ve got Jonathan Stark joining us which is cool because he sounds like a Superhero alias because he has the word Stark in his name so I am expecting amazing things. We’ve had Jonathan on the show before, he’s really good – a great guy.

Marcus: Yes, we have.

Paul: Joke?

Marcus: Joke. This is from Nick Johnson-Hill. Thank you Nick.

‘Did you hear about the two ships that collided at sea? One was carrying red paint and the other was carrying blue paint. All the sailors ended up being marooned’.


That’s quite good, come on.

Paul: That’s not bad actually. You’ve told worse than that. It didn’t justify anything more than a snigger, but you know.

So there you go – another show done, I guess. It’s hard work this isn’t it?

Marcus: It’s hard work this week, yes.

Leigh: You both sound knackered. You do.

Marcus: It’s because I am Leigh. I am not feeling very well.

Paul: I don’t know why? I’ve got no excuse to be knackered. I think I’ve got a bit of a bug to be honest. All aches and pains. It’s hard to be honest when you get to my age… he says to two people who are older than him.

Marcus: I am older than you and so is Leigh… I think. Are you older than Paul, Leigh?

Leigh: Yes, much older. That’s the thing about pitches, I feel like we’re two old blokes turning up.

Marcus: There is that.

Leigh: And I think perhaps someone younger needs to go along to take the average down a bit. Because one day we’re going to turn up and they’ll all be about twenty and you’ll walk in the room and go ‘Shit’.

Paul: Yes you’ll go in and you’ll be like ‘I am begging a twenty year old for work. What’s my life become to?’

Leigh: But conversely you’ll think ‘Just look at the amount of experience we’ve got in this grey hair’.

Marcus: Exactly I think I’ve even said that or words to that effect.

Paul: My grey hair is nothing to do with my experience and everything to do with having family. That’s the truth of it isn’t it? Until I had a kid, my hair was perfectly black.

Leigh: Actually I think some of mine might be CSS….

Paul: Anyway, there we go. Thank you very much for listening guys. We’ll return next week and maybe we’ll have some more energy. Leigh it’s so nice to have you back on the show. Thank you for coming.

Leigh: Good to talk to you Paul.