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How best to not sell an idea

How best to not sell an idea

For anyone who bought what I wrote about not selling, this is a more narrowly focused follow-up about the implications of a not selling philosophy for the presentation of ideas to clients.

On the one hand how do you satisfy the pressure from the agency to sell do the idea justice?

And on the other what do you do about your sneaking suspicion that clients have a sneaking suspicion of preamble?

(If the idea’s that good, why does it need all this fluffing? Shouldn’t it sell itself?)

A client of mine once shared an anecdote about a creative presentation he’d attended early in his career.

The main object of that presentation was my client’s boss, a straight-talking American marketing director.

The hapless agency guy launched into some well-prepared, well-rehearsed but alas over-long eulogy for the as yet unshared idea.

After a while the marketing director leaned forward, touched the presenter on the wrist, looked him in the eye and said…

“Son. You’ve made me hard.”

(Dramatic pause).

“Now make me come.”

The hapless account guy in question would have done well to treat his client like a Jedi. As Yoda (allegedly) said…

“Foreplay, cuddling – a Jedi craves not these things.”

Clearly you need to say something about the idea. But what? And, just as importantly, when?

Here are some approaches that have repeatedly worked well for me over the years.

1) Resist the temptation to re-present or summarise the brief. Anyone in the meeting who does not know the brief inside out does not deserve to be there. Going over the brief is safe, head-still-below-the-parapet territory.  It is a crutch for the presenter who is nervous about his or her content and will be seen as such.

The exception to this rule is if the idea has come directly from a specific nugget within the brief. Then it is right and proper to draw the client’s attention to the source of the creative leap that you are about to share with them.

Which leads me onto point 2).

2) Preamble as sales pitch is bad. Preamble as insight into the creative thought process that led to the idea can be good.

To most clients, and to a lot of agency people, the creative process is a fascinating black box. And an occasional peek inside that box can be useful.

This approach is most compellingly utilised by the people that actually did the creative thinking, and for that reason creative people who can construct consecutive sentences, who can maintain eye contact, and who wash are worth their weight in gold.

Discuss how they initially approached the brief √

Share a few blind alleys and creative cul de sacs √

Maybe refer to the bit of the brief that most inspired them √

As well as being interesting, this approach has the added benefits of i) proving that the creatives actually read the brief and ii) hinting at some form of creative quality control process.

3) Articulate the idea.

It is blinding obvious that the whole point of the meeting you’re in is to answer the question in the client’s head – “What’s the big idea?”

But so often you see otherwise intelligent people go into creative presentations without a pre-prepared answer.

They have a script or an ad but not an articulation of the underlying idea.

Well articulated ideas are incredibly powerful.

Aim for under 25 words (an idea that you can hold in your hand as Steven Spielberg would describe it).

Ensure that the brand or product name is central to the definition. You won’t be able to do this unless the brand or product has an active role in the idea. And for this reason an idea definition that has the brand at its core is incredibly reassuring to clients.

And make it exciting and easy to remember.

Being able to articulate your ideas is a basic professional discipline that is easy to overlook.

It also has the practical benefit of making the idea more portable.

It is unfortunate that approval of an idea will often require clients in the room to present it on in your absence to clients not in the room. A properly packaged and defined idea is less prone to misrepresentation and/or misinterpretation.

4) Be prepared to explain why this is such a good idea.

Hopefully this will be intuitively obvious to all concerned, but life is not always like that.

I’d aim to keep this powder dry until after you’ve presented the idea. Hopefully you won’t need it.

5) Be prepared to explain how this idea will work.

This is a killer. It’s a disarmingly innocent question that I’ve seen pull the rug out from under many creative presentations. It doesn’t get asked that often but if you purport to be a communication expert your client has every right to expect a robust answer.

Just how will this idea work to help me achieve my objectives?

And “Because it’s funny” ain’t going to cut it.

6) Don’t leave the agency without an idea that you believe in.

This is the main thing and everything else flows from it. Do your hardest work and take the greatest pain within the agency. Do whatever it takes to make sure that you are genuinely excited about the idea(s) that you’re going to present. That excitement should automatically translate into the professional disciplines described above.

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