Do You Pitch in Poetry and Manage in Prose?

Norman Rockwell 'Freedom of Speech'

Norman Rockwell 'Freedom of Speech'

Mario Cuomo, the Governor of New York between 1983 and 1994, famously observed of the political process: ‘You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose.’ For politicians election campaigns are all grand themes, lofty ideals and elegant words. The day-to-day task of government is, by contrast, much more about hard bargaining, cold calculation and compromised action.

Of course, there’s been precious little poetry in the election currently concluding in the UK. Nonetheless, Cuomo’s dictum rings true, and it has a resonance for us in the world of commercial creativity. We would perhaps reluctantly agree that, in most circumstances:  ‘You pitch in poetry; you manage the business in prose.’

Classically, pitching is all theatre and personality; enterprise and enthusiasm; big ideas and limitless possibilities. If we’re fortunate enough to win a pitch, we soon come down to earth with a bump. Most of our proposed executions lie bleeding on the floor before us, victims of budget practicalities and Year 1 caution. (‘I think that will be brilliant in Year 2.’) We rapidly embrace a world of timeframes and team allocation; Gantt charts and organograms; status reports and conference calls. It’s all too easy to lose sight of our original hopes and plans. Before too long we do indeed find ourselves running the business in prose.

This begs certain questions of Agency leadership: Do we too readily set aside the optimism and open mindedness of the pitch for the harsh realities of everyday account management? How can we maintain some level of inspiration in the business once the aspiration and ambition of the pitch are a distant memory? How do we sustain some poetry in amongst the prose?

Moreover, in recent years the distinction between the pitch dynamic and day-to-day account practice has been blurred somewhat. As the world of communication has become more complex, as media have fragmented and technology has proliferated, pitching Clients have sought more than stirring words and lateral leaps. They want to know up-front about global networks and operating systems; capabilities and costs; partnerships, platforms and processes. They want to get their lawyers, accountants and procurement people involved. There’s a good deal of prose in the contemporary creative pitch.

This poses fresh questions for the pitching Agency: How do we convey to Clients the potential of our core creative proposal, whilst at the same time reassuring them that we have the people and processes to get the job done? How much of the pitch should we give to ideas and inspiration, and how much to systems and methodologies? What is the right balance of poetry and prose?

Of course, the natural inclination of both Client and Agency is to isolate the inspirational from the procedural. It’s quite common to have separate conversations, in separate meetings, with separate people.  But some of the most impressive pitches I have attended have integrated the two. They have endeavoured to make the business of platform management and collateral creation exciting; to make the process as stimulating as the product.

Inevitably the modern Agency should learn to pitch and manage in both poetry and prose.

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