Pitch imperfect

June 25, 2014

Pitching is always a headache. What can be done?

Image: Shutterstock


It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Keith Armstrong, a partner at Dundas & Wilson (before it merged with CMS Cameron McKenna), who has just been struck off for plagiarising a pitch document prepared by his girlfriend.

Who knows what possessed him to nick his live-in partner’s handiwork? In 2012, they were both pitching for the same sizeable work from five local councils – she as a business development manager for a competitor firm. She had clearly done her homework. He hadn’t.

On the night before the deadline, you can just imagine him sitting in his home office staring at a blank page with a rising sense of panic. Perhaps his girlfriend’s documents were just poking out of the top of her briefcase while she enjoyed a sweet, untroubled sleep. Maybe he thought he’d just take a peek…

Whatever the particulars, the fact that he ended up handing in a virtually identical document suggests this was more desperate stupidity than premeditated fraud. The clients of course noticed the glaring similarities and demanded what sounds like a pretty excruciating meeting with both firms.

For Armstrong, it quickly unravelled from there.

No doubt other lawyers won’t be following Armstrong’s example. But there is a broader lesson to be learnt too. For a start, it seems a little strange that an individual partner should seemingly have been shouldering the entire burden of an important pitch.

Full team ahead?

Where was the team support – including BD staff, and senior partner and associate input – that we hear is so vital for success in today’s increasingly demanding and yet critical competitive tendering process? It seems that in this instance, at least, it was absent.

It suggests too that some firms may well be struggling to meet the demand to deliver ever more pitches for panel places that may not be forthcoming.

According to The Lawyer there were 46 formal panel reviews in 2013, all of which required competing firms to research, plan and develop comprehensive documentation forming the basis of a tailored presentation designed to withstand hefty cross-examination.

Each pitch takes considerable time and effort with costs spiralling into the tens of thousands.

Those that do it well reap the rewards. Take Pinsent Masons, which in 2013 won a deal with Balfour Beatty to undertake all of its bread and butter legal work. It then went on to beat 40 other firms to become the sole legal provider for E.ON – nice work if you can get it.

But it’s a sign too that more clients are reviewing and revising their panels. They are using procurement departments to make more stringent demands on their RFPs, looking for proof of capabilities particularly in regard to price innovation and cost efficiency. And they are often using such reviews to cut the number of external advisers they use.

This is a tough world for lawyers who are not trained in pitching or sales, and who have little enough time on their hands as it is. It seems inevitable that some will find themselves, like Armstrong, fudging the job at the last minute.

Thankfully, there is hope.

Love my tender

More firms are realising the importance of the tendering process and the new level of expertise that is required to do it well. They are recruiting pitch specialists and bid managers to support the process, giving the right guidance to lawyers exactly where it is needed.

Such managers not only help with the writing and development of proposals but can coach specific bid teams as well as train partners firm-wide in tendering skills. They can also provide an invaluable function in this time-pressed age – liaising with lawyers and BD teams to ensure that tendering work is properly distributed and that no one person bears the brunt of any one proposal.

Take a look at Pinsent Masons and sure enough you’ll find a team of bid managers working behind the scenes. We don’t know how critical a part they played in the firm’s pitching success in 2013, but their presence must have helped.

Recruitment is always a costly business. But in this respect, it is surely money well spent. CP

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