Why enter The Pitch 2021?
- 21 October 2020
As CIM’s flagship student competition goes digital, we spoke to the winners of last year’s event about what it means to win, what it takes to succeed, and what their advice would be to students entering The Pitch 2021 about how to impress the brand-new sponsor.
The Pitch is a nationwide competition designed to recognise and reward the marketing talent of the future. Each year, undergraduate marketing students are tasked with a real-life marketing challenge set by a global brand. Ten teams are selected to present their ideas to a live panel of marketing experts, in a bid to be crowned ‘Marketers of the Future’. For the 2021 competition, sponsored by Samsung, the move to virtual presentations offers an exciting new development to bring the competition worldwide. Samsung will be asking students to respond to a challenge based on the next generation of consumers:
“Samsung’s mobile devices, such as foldable mobile phones, tablets, headphones and watches, are at the cutting edge of portable technology. How can we use this innovation to communicate our ‘relentless pioneer’ brand DNA to Generation Z?”
Students looking for success in 2021 can learn a thing or two from the reigning champions. In 2020, Thomas Cooper and Adam Dickson, from the University of Strathclyde, were declared overall winners, impressing the 2020 brand sponsor, Lidl. Tasked with improving sustainability amongst Lidl shoppers, their ‘Lidl things mean a lot’ campaign impressed judges from CIM, Mintel and Lidl itself with their attention to detail. Claire Farrant, marketing director at Lidl, was impressed with the final three teams competing, but commented that ‘Cooper and Dickson showed a true retail roll-out marketing plan, allowing trial, review and roll-out which is a typical framework that a retailer would adopt when launching a campaign like this.’
So, where did it all begin?
The two students were introduced to The Pitch during a marketing lecture and immediately recognised the opportunity ahead of them. ‘It was in our third year,’ explains Thomas Cooper, ‘so we were looking for opportunities to build on our CVs. This would be a chance to apply what we learnt at university to a real company. We couldn’t turn it down.’
Adam Dickson agrees, saying that the challenge itself excited him. ‘It required a lot of problem solving and working with Lidl, a place I regularly visit, really appealed to me.’
‘You don’t expect to be working with such a big brand when you’re a student,’ echoes Cooper.
Still, did the thorny, and often controversial, issue of sustainability give them pause for thought?
‘Sustainability is something a lot of people don’t think about’, says Dickson. ‘The challenge was the main draw because it’s so topical right now, with so many components to it and lots of differing views on how to go about it.’
Even the challenge of balancing the demands of being a student around the hard work of The Pitch did not phase them. ‘We did have coursework on our minds,’ says Cooper, ‘even if it’s not as much as the final year it’s still hard work, but we recognised that winning would really help our graduate prospects. This became our priority. If we were going to be in it, we were going to try to win it.’
So, with the challenge set, how did they go about handling it?
It turned out to be attention to detail, grounded in realism, that not only powered their whole process, but ultimately became one of the reasons they were crowned overall winners. ‘When you enter you receive a research pack from Mintel,’ explains Cooper. ‘We tackled that first. There’s no point thinking about strategy if you don’t know the detail of the consumers, the market and Lidl as a business.’
'Watching our final presentation', he confirms, 'you’d never know how much that research was used but it was the backbone of everything. The more you do, the better.’
Using a SOSTAC approach to their marketing campaign helped the team to bring their ideas to life, and apply to the real-world logic that they initially entered the competition for. They now had to prepare the tactics to achieve their objectives. It was here that Cooper and Dickson really stood out according to the judges, applying sound marketing theory with high levels of real-world detail needed for the execution.
‘The tactics were the most exciting for me,’ says Dickson, ‘coming up with the key message and how we’d deliver it. We went deep into the details of execution. For billboards, we reached out to business development representatives for figures on how much they cost. For the TV ads we proposed, we met up with an ad agency who worked with ITV to find out what it would cost and exactly what we’d get for that money.’
That level of detail was not easy to come by. ‘It was quite difficult,’ admits Dickson, ‘but you have to do it in the right way. Networking through platforms such as LinkedIn makes it easier and, remember, people are often willing to help, even if they are busy.’
The final stage of the competition saw the team travel to Moor Hall, Cookham, to present live to a panel of industry experts, including two representatives from Lidl, specialising in both marketing and sustainability.
‘The final presentation involved a lot of practice, which started two weeks before,’ admits Cooper. ‘We knew it was important that the presentation was as good as the ideas, or the ideas would lose all their credibility.’
To those students competing virtually this year, Dickson offers this advice: ‘We wrote a script covering all our points. Once we did that, we thought of what questions they’d ask us. We then made sure the answers to them were in the slide deck. That’s the approach I’d recommend because you’ve covered yourself against difficult questions.’
In the end, the preparation paid off and the judges were impressed not only with the team’s attention to detail and professionalism but their innovative approach to the challenge, which stood out amongst some tough competition.
What does it feel like to win The Pitch?
‘It was surreal’, says Cooper. ‘It might be a bit of a cliché, but it really was a dream come true.’
Dickson agrees: ‘It feels absolutely fantastic. We put so much effort in and to win showed that all our hard work paid off. But we loved the whole process.’ Cooper himself admits that he described the achievement to his family as ‘“The marketing student’s equivalent of winning the world cup”, because it really does feel like that.’
As well as focussing on their final year, the two are already making moves in to their chosen profession, with Dickson already working part-time as a marketing associate at AnywhereWorks in Edinburgh and pointing out that The Pitch helped build his confidence and skills in-role.
So, would they encourage students to enter this year? ‘Absolutely’, says Cooper. ‘Don’t let the tough competition from your fellow students put you off. Focus on working hard for you, for your team, and for your project, and it’s worth it. For all the hard work, it’s fun too.’
Cooper and Dickson’s top tips for this year’s students:
- Prepare for hard work. It’ll be fun along the way but don’t expect to coast if you want to succeed.
- The research is the most important bit. It might be copious but using the pack you are given effectively can make your presentation realistic and your objectives SMART.
- Talk to the experts. A variety of networking tools have opened up chances for students to talk to professionals. Go about it the right way and you’ll have real world insights to make your presentation justifiable.
Even if you don't enter The Pitch, CIM has options for graduates via our Graduate Gateway programme. With specific exemptions that could save you up to £300, explore your options here.
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