What’s the new normal?

For Creativebrief‘s latest series on ‘Navigating the new normal’, AML CEO Ian Henderson explores the nature of the virtual pitch and shares some tips on how to carry on with business as usual.

It’s been around five weeks since AML moved out of our gorgeous new space at the Tea Building in Shoreditch and that was only three days after we moved in. Along with the new sofas, the long workbenches and the fancy coffee machine, we’d upgraded our technology too. Which, it turns out, was exactly what we needed as the country went into lockdown.

With clients all over the world, we’re used to video calling and working with partners in other time zones once projects are under way. But pitching for new clients or new work had almost always been face to face, in the same room. And with our untried new tech, we were a little anxious when two prospects wanted to go ahead with remote pitches the day before we all started working from home.

We needn’t have worried too much. One of the pitches was a clean win, with that rare but gratifying ‘you’re hired’ response the same day; the other got us through to a second round. We used Zoom for one, and Teams for the other and everything worked; except for one client we sent the video-heavy deck in advance and her PC couldn’t read Quicktime. (Vimeo to the rescue.)

There were a few other lessons to be learned, too. One is that good meeting behaviours go from being just good manners in the boardroom to vital online. There has to be a clear agenda, someone running the meeting, who manages people talking over each other and running time, and everyone in the room needs to have a definite role. And not rehearsing is just asking for things to go wrong.

But apart from weedy home WIFI turning people mute with a gargoyle expression frozen on their face, we’ve found that the actual pitch meeting itself is mostly the easy bit. With a bit of practice, and some decent work of course, you can still get ideas across, build relationships, read the room and even have some fun.

What’s much harder is getting that sustained intensity of collaborative thinking that marks the best pitches. Creative teams can work well over an open video link; strategists positively relish some quiet thinking time and tools like online whiteboards, assembling decks on Sharepoint and regular Teams check ins are all essential.

We’re still working on those moments of conversation that produce a sudden inspiration, or a chance collision of seemingly unrelated insight; that’s what agencies thrive on, and why they are usually highly social places to work. Our virtual pub, the AML Arms, chats and other connection tools get put to good use, but we’re still looking forward to getting back to our new Shoreditch home.


Originally appeared in BITE.