How to win a pitch to a developer
There are many important facets to a successful pitch. It's crucial to know who you are pitching to: their concerns, their sector and their history. Of course, presenting a clear picture of your practice and its work is vitally important. But it's equally important to do so within the context of the client’s world.
For Roger Black, creative director at developer Ballymore and founder of PegasusLife, a stand-out pitch is one in which an architect “talks about what success looks like”.
This will frequently equate to overall financial success, but not always. Depending on the client, success might be a social value outcome, or the clearing of an early funding hurdle.
Ascertaining what success looks like to a particular developer requires doing the preparatory research. A successful pitch, Black counsels, depends upon an architect telling the right story to the right client.
The pitch should instigate a firm connection with a client, demonstrate an understanding of what matters to them and provide some kind of example of how their expectations can be met or even surpassed.
Try to identify and understand what the person you are pitching to wants to achieve with the project. How can their problems be solved and their concerns met? What constitutes value for them and how can this be maximized?
Showing that you understand the developer’s specific risks works exceptionally well in pitches, Black advises. Referring to “the sale of the last unit” is one tactic he brings up.
“Everyone always talks about ‘the best apartment’. But to developers, the most important square foot in a building is the last one to be sold.”
What does not work, he stresses, is a straightforward picture show of a practice’s past work. “There are a lot of good architects in this world,” he cautions. “If you just show some pretty pictures you might as well buy a lottery ticket. You are not going to forge a meaningful connection. Those who presented before you and those who will come in after you also have pretty pictures.”
Black insists that the pitch should take the client on a journey to a successful outcome. This can be achieved via reference to the work of other practices. It doesn't need to all be about your own portfolio or previous experience in a given sector, as long as the narrative you provide takes them to the right place and you demonstrate perceptiveness.
Because projects and teams can often be in place for three to four years, the developer has to believe that there is a vision behind the project: that all involved are interested in accomplishing something special.
“Don’t presume that most developers have all the answers. They don’t. They are looking for some magic,” says Black.
One interesting pitch Black once received focused almost entirely on the presenting architect’s analysis of the build to rent sector, and what worked well in it. It was laid out mainly using infographics: this demonstrated the architect’s astute understanding of the sector’s ongoing concerns.
For a client that may not necessarily know a huge amount about a particular sector, having information laid out in such a fashion would be very appealing, Black believes. Placing all the presentation’s energy into telling a story rather than showing off work can often be a powerful strategy.
Preparing your presentation thoroughly is a time-intensive process, which has implications for a practice’s or individual’s workload. Practices are often understandably wary about committing too many resources to one pitch.
It's often the same for developers, Black affirms, with ideas stolen and leveraged by rivals. But it's a risk that has to be taken. Time should be allocated to speculating if a practice wishes to move into something new.
He warns that the architect is no longer king, in terms of providing designs that win over awestruck clients by the strengths of their designs. Often they are considered consultants within an array of other consultants. Perhaps paradoxically, Black sees this as an opportunity to reposition the idea of the architect.
“Go beyond the architecture. Drill down into what is of emotional concern to the audience you are addressing. That might be profit. But whatever it is, try to position yourself as the thought leader.”
Conveying what will bring joy and delight in a leisure development, or the tangible cost benefits of social wellbeing in a housing development, can be a way of aligning the architect’s goals with the developer’s.
“When pitching, architects could consider themselves as thought leaders in space. Once you have established yourself in that position, then you can let your beautiful architecture come through.”
Thanks to Roger Black, Creative Director, Ballymore.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.
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