(Findings and insights from the PM Society survey on virtual meetings and pitches)

Why don’t we start with a quote from that wonderful pre-covid 2013 movie ‘Her’.

Have you seen it? Do you recall digital and virtual Samantha, the recently divorced Theodore’s new operating system and ear-piece companion saying, “I used to be so worried about not having a body, but now… I truly love it. I’m not limited. I can be anywhere and everywhere simultaneously. I’m not tethered to time and space.”

It seems to neatly summarise what 75% of the respondents to the PM Society’s recent survey said: “I would be more open to virtual pitches to allow consideration of agencies from a wider geography but would still keep face-to-face pitching where I can” and of course, almost half of the respondents felt virtual pitches were as effective as face-to-face pitches.

Samantha was purely present as a voice, yet Theodore still managed to fall hopelessly in love with her. She was voiced by Scarlett Johanssen so, no surprise, she projected great chemistry and yet still, she left him for another operating system. At least Zoom and Teams give us a two-dimensional chance of generating some chemistry but what to do if we want the relationship to last longer than Theodore’s did?

82% of respondents to the survey agreed chemistry is very valuable ­– it’s the key to good outputs and 45% put meeting the core team as essential to the pitch process with 33% saying meeting the team they’re going to work with was essential.

So, that tells us this is still a people business. The expression of personality is still key, and, after all, life is too short to not enjoy what you do. So pragmatically, what can you do to win hearts and minds? How do you reach out beyond the two-dimensional screen to connect with one another?

The survey asked what are the best indicators of a partnership? It seems that despite the restrictions of a screen and arguably, even when the relationship is in person, they are the same as before. Trust figures highly –  88% of clients want to trust their agency’s expertise, 84% want to feel like the agency team and client team are one and the same, 64% want a dialogue and feedback, 56% want their thinking challenged and 45% want to feel they’re being cared about, well serviced and looked after.

Going back to the film, Her, eventually Samantha falls out of love with Theodore. There are two very profound things Samantha says, warning him of their relationship’s impending doom,”The past is just a story we tell ourselves” and “I can still feel you, and the words of our story … but it’s in this endless space between the words that is where I’m finding myself now”.

Samantha is saying what has gone before is not necessarily how the future should be and she is asking him not to take her for granted. He does, she leaves. In so many ways it is perhaps pertinent to clients and agencies alike. Whether it is via a screen or in person, we should always be looking for new ways to invest in and strengthen our relationships and we must never take one another for granted.

Our top tips to avoid becoming Theodore:

  • Make sure you don’t rely too much on video calls.  Meet one another in person as regularly as possible.  Don’t let ‘budgets’ dictate how much you meet.  In-person gatherings for key meetings and key workshops add another dimension to the relationship and help build a genuine partnership.

  • Use email to confirm things and put things in writing.  Don’t use it for important discussions and debates or to resolve issues.
  • If you’re running a pitch don’t appoint an agency without meeting them in-person or going into their office, both of which give you much more to go on than a video pitch.  You’ll get more insight into the people and the culture.

Author: Stephen Page, Brand and Strategy Director, Page & Page and member of the PM Society Industry-Agency Relationships Interest Group