Hacking the pitch process

My secret hack for winning pitches

Let’s be honest – no one in advertising likes pitching. Yes, the thrill of winning a new business is incredible, but the process of winning that business is anything but. We’re talking late nights, pressure to perform, stress, sleep deprivation, sacrificing time with your family… all for two hours in front of a new client that you don’t really know. 

Here are my tips to give you that edge in those two hours. 

Pitching

  1. Avoid new payoff lines.
    • Unless they have asked specifically for a new payoff line for the brand, don’t give them one. This is why. You are speaking to people who live and breathe a brand that you have only been exposed to for the last few days. Introducing a new line says that you not only don’t like or believe in the line that they have (which they probably approved), but that you also think that you know what their business needs better than they do. You only have a limited time in the pitch – rather show them the magic you’re capable of that will truly impact their business, than have them thinking about whether your line is right or wrong for the entire presentation. 
  2. Time is of the essence.
    • Almost every agency that I’ve pitched for has overestimated the time given to them in the process and the pitch. My advice is this… treat every slide in the presentation like a tattoo. Most clients understand what a Facebook or Instagram post looks like. Does it really need to be in the presentation? I’ve actually seen agencies work out that they only have 3 seconds to present each slide of their 400 page powerpoint document because it is filled with so much… stuff … and think that is okay. Surely, the client has invited you to pitch because you being able to do those things, is a given. What they want to really see is what unique thinking you will bring to the table. If you walked in with a single piece of paper, put it out in front of them and explained to them how this one unique, brave idea was going to change their brand… which pitch do you think they will remember more? 
  3. Focus on the big picture. But check your spelling. 
    • We’ve already spoken about your work being brave and memorable. But nothing will undermine that quicker than a spelling mistake. So make sure that you get a proofreader to go through everything thoroughly. Don’t ask the copywriters who have worked on the pitch to check it – by now they’re probably exhausted and might not see any mistakes in their own work. 
  4. Eat healthily
    • If you’re an agency, please prepare two meals a day for your teams. When they’re getting home late at night – they don’t have time to make food for the next day. You want them relaxed and refreshed.
    • And if you’re a creative, do yourself a favour and try to avoid all the energy drinks, the caffeine bombs, and that little white substance… sugar. And the other one. All those little highs have big lows and they aren’t really that conducive to creative thinking. 
  5. If you’re a freelancer – don’t pitch for free. 
    • My next insight is this: if you’re a freelancer, don’t pitch for free. And don’t pitch for a reduced rate on the promise that if they win, you will become their go-to guy/girl and get a lot more work. What I have found, more times than I’d like to mention, is that once a company wins the pitch, they land up hiring a junior to do the job so that they can make more money on the account. The next time you’ll hear from that company is when that client decides to go out to pitch again and they need you to do what you did the first time around.  

My last insight might just be the secret sauce or 11 herbs and spices to winning pitches. So please watch the video so that you can fully understand it. It involves ‘Inception’-like concepts on how to plant an idea and it will really equip you for any pitches you have coming up. I’ll also review one of the most incredible non-profit ads ever made. 

With all that said, let’s get into what I believe could be the secret to hacking pitches? The secret is this… 

Know your audience.

What? Is that it? Hear me out. Remember that in a pitch, you’re not actually advertising anything to anyone but the people in the room. You are the product. There is no way for them to measure whether your work is right or wrong, they are rewarding the work based on something else… Think about that. You’ve just spent all your time showing them that you understand their target audience, but that is not who you are speaking to. You are speaking to them. And how much do you really know about the people in that room? What have you invested in getting them to know that you are the authority in what you do.

At this point, if you haven’t watched the video, please do. It really puts everything into context. 

This is the greatest flaw of pitching. Your job in the pitch is to influence the five people in the room who are making the decision. Sure – your creative work will play a role, but there is so much more that you could do to move things in your favour. Am I suggesting that you hire a mentalist to help you land the business? Why not? This is the business of influence. And sure, this is an extreme example, but there are little things that you can do that will shift things your way. Think about the client’s commute to the presentation room. What will they see along the way? Could that help you? What will they be listening to? Is there a way to extend your two hour presentation that it speaks to them long after the pitch… or maybe you can find a way to prime them so that that two hour presentation is just the cherry on top. 

If you have enjoyed this content and would like to see more like it, please subscribe to my channel. I am really trying to grow it this year. I am also working on the conceptual copywriting course, which will be launching soon. As soon as it is ready – I’ll be sure to let you know. 

Until next time. Cheers. 

Pitches be crazy! What you need to know if you’re going out to pitch.

Pitching in advertising | What you should know

If you’re a brand, here is what you need to know about pitching in advertising: Pitches be crazy. This is the first of a two part series about pitching in advertising. Today, I’ll be sharing all the things your advertising agency is probably not telling you. I’ll also share insights on the pitch process, help you with judging creative work, and stop your brand from stifling the creative process. Part two is coming soon… So let’s get into it.

If you have been in the advertising industry for any amount of time, you would have probably heard of the story of when Peter Marsh pitched on British rail. The story goes that British Rail – a very proud, stiff upper lip company arrived at the offices of the agency, ABM, where they were greeted with a very disengaged, couldn’t-care-less receptionist. Instead of getting the royal red carpet laid out – as it was by the other agencies – they were placed in the waiting room filled with overflowing ashtrays, and ignored for about forty minutes. 

Now, by this stage, the top brass of British Rail are furious and about to walk out. Enter Peter Marsh, he looks at them and says “That’s how the British Public see British rail. Now let’s see what we can do to put it right”. ABM went on to win British Rail’s business – the most profitable account in the UK. 

Advertising pitches have become a source of legends. I just wish that the legends went more like this one. Instead, I’ve seen creatives overworked; I’ve heard of people dying from stress and exhaustion; and, very rarely, have I seen the bravery and honesty of Peter Marsh.

So here are the Insights for you, the client, if you’re thinking of going out to pitch.

Marketing

  1. Don’t go out to pitch. 

Trust is far more important than a contract and if you keep switching agencies, how will you ever build that up? Rather spend the time fixing the relationship with your agency – it’s going to make them work harder because your success is theirs. Also – here’s a little secret of what happens when big clients leave an agency. The advertising industry is small, which means that when you leave your agency, that agency has to retrench their staff. Where do those people go to find work? The agency who has just picked up your business. But now – instead of you fixing the relationship that you had with those people in the first place, you have a bunch of people working on your account who resent your brand for putting them through all the stress they’ve been through over the last few months. And these are supposed to be the people who love your brand the most. Good luck on getting them to be creative. 

  1. No unpaid pitch work.

In theory, I think that this is something that we all agree on… and yet, I constantly see clients either not paying for a pitch, or completely underpaying. If you are truly looking for new talent, how can you expect the next up-and-coming creative genius to compete with multinational agencies and stand a chance. They just don’t have the resources. And then there is this problem… you go out to pitch and if you’re a profitable business, your agency is going to throw every resource at that pitch. For two or three weeks, you’ve got everyone in the agency working themselves to death to make sure that they win the business. They are all pulling all-nighters just for that two hour presentation where they show you what they can do. The problem is that it is not what they can do all the time. At the end of the pitch, they’re exhausted. They need time to recover. And then, when it comes to the first presentation after they’re won the pitch – you can’t understand why everything just isn’t as polished or good. There should be a new rule to pitching… you’re not allowed to have more than one team working from 9-5 over a week. Because what that team is able to deliver (which will be great) is probably what you’re going to get when they become your agency. 

  1. How to judge work. 

So there are a lot of metrics that clients are using nowadays to judge work and that’s great. But there is one area that I believe is missed and it’s because it is probably the hardest to judge… especially in a pitch when the work might not be as polished as it normally would be when the work is going out to market. For this reason – I believe it is imperative to have a creative consultant as part of your judging panel. In essence, this person is a creative director who has worked at various agencies in various mediums and has seen ideation happen from when it is just a scamp on a piece of paper to being a full blown production. The biggest reason you need a creative director is this, you might not be able to polish a turd, but I have seen many agencies who know how to package one. A good creative director will be able to pick that up. Metaphorically speaking – of course. They have been trained for years to spot good ideas – the ones that have legs – and bomb the ones that don’t. They should, most of the time, be able to spot an idea that has had a lot of money thrown behind it to make it look better than it is. And this will also help in the process of bigger agencies being able to spend more money on a pitch than a smaller one can. 

  1. Remember why your agency won.

This is one of the strangest phenomena that happens after the pitch. And I’ll tell it from an agency’s perspective. You worked your butt off for weeks on end to win the pitch. When the news hits the agency that you won, you walk around high fiving people and strutting around like you’re on the set of Madmen. This is why you got into advertising… finally, a client has recognised your creative genius. You meet with the new Marketing Director who is always ex-agency and you go back to your creatives with a promise of “This one gets us, guys”. The first brief comes, for some odd reason – they’re not going with the work that won the pitch – even though they all loved it, but that’s okay… this time things are going to be different. The brainstorms go well, ideas flow back and forth, your team are enthusiastic, you present – people in the room are laughing, there is a good atmosphere… and then you get the debrief. You’re pushed back. You go back to the drawing board, come up with more great ideas, present to a room of eager minds – again, everyone is happy, but you’re pushed back. Again. And again. And again. Until you finally find yourself presenting work that is compromised in every way and the great, brave creative product that won the pitch is somehow forgotten. 

  1. Don’t make the same mistakes that you did with your old agency. 

Concentrate on the relationship. Don’t give unreasonable deadlines. Spend time and money building that trust. Make your agency the biggest fans of your brand and it will show in the work. And if you have a Peter Marsh level of honesty – reward it with your business.

With that all said, take a look at the video where I review the type of work that you get to make when your agency and client trust each other. It’s ballsy. It’s brave. And it’s an ad you’ll be talking about this weekend. If you like what you see, subscribe, like and share. Let’s improve the creative output we see in advertising. 

The Art of Copy: Ten tips for writing copy

The Art of Copy

Quote: 

“I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.” – Mark Twain. 

Writing great copy takes talent – yes, but it also takes time. This is why so much of what we read today in advertising is just wallpaper. It’s one of the biggest problems that I have seen with digital advertising. In the digital space – it is often more important that you have said something, than if you have something to say… think about that. We all know people who do this in meetings. People who pipe up at the last minute just to feel like they are part of the conversation, but who honestly have nothing really valuable to add. Don’t you hate those people? Then why do we think it’s okay to do this when speaking to a consumer?

I remember once reading that it is only once your traffic lady has gone blue in the face and your art director has taken up drinking, that you should consider starting. And even then, you should only consider it… for a moment. The reason for this is simple – it allows you to filter out all the nonsense that your audience don’t really care about. So that when you do finally start – you’re able to be more articulate, be more creative, and be more rewarding.

With that in mind, here are my 10 rules for writing great copy:

  1. Copy should be rewarding.

It should inspire, motivate, inform, make people think, draw people in, enlighten, lift up, or make people laugh. It should not bore. Advertising is a form of entertainment.

  1. Use adjectives sparingly. 

Yes, you’re trying to convince someone to buy something, but don’t sound like you are. Lee Clow, one of advertising’s greatest Creative Directors, says that you should put down what you absolutely have to say, then stop. Genius. 

  1. Punctuation matters. 

Terry Pratchett in his book “Maskerade” says that “Multiple exclamation marks are the sure sign of a diseased mind”. Wikipedia’s summary of this quote says it best – “The basic idea is that a person’s sanity is inversely proportional to the number of exclamation marks they use!” And guys, an ellipsis has three dots. No more, no less. 

  1. Say one thing.

Single-minded propositions don’t have the word ‘and’ in them. Again – this is from the genius of Lee Clow. In fact, just download the book LeeClowsBeard here: https://amzn.to/37Azxnl It has absolutely everything that you’ll ever need to know about advertising. 

  1. Tickle their intellect. 

Your audience is not as dumb as some people think they are. Your audience is not the lowest common denominator. I’ve seen this scenario play out a million times in a boardroom. You pitch an ad that gets a great reaction – everyone in the room is taken on a journey and moved in one way or another. When everyone is chatting about the possibilities of what this could mean for the brand, the aforementioned person (who hasn’t said anything up until this point) pipes up and says “I just don’t think that our customers will get it”. We need to realise that people rise up to a challenge – no one likes to be spoken down to. In fact, in the book LeeClowsBeard, he says “Consumers never complain about ads being too smart”. Really, do yourself a favour, get the book.

  1. Stick to the rules

Unless you have a very good reason for breaking them, don’t. Yes, Shakespeare made up or introduced 1700 words into the English language… but he was Shakespeare.

  1. Never repeat yourself.

If you write it properly, you won’t need to. Your copy will be memorable enough.

  1. Find your voice. 

Yes, you need to write on behalf of a brand and if you’re good, you’ll be writing for lots of brands so you may need to tweak that voice. But good copy is not sterile – there is a person behind it. As there should be.  

  1. Entice people. 

Leave them wanting more – that is the best call to action you can hope for. 

10.    Refer to number 9. 

No one woke up this morning aiming to be mediocre. Let’s write copy that meets them where they’re aiming.

Marketing vs Advertising

“I want a once-in-a-lifetime, never-been-done, unparalleled, one-of-a-kind, completely unique idea and three case studies to show how it’s worked before.” Sound familiar?

I remember the first proper brief that I ever worked on when I was at college studying copywriting. It was for Dr Pepper. We had been broken up into teams of about 6 people to try and crack a big idea and because we were all completely new at the game, it took a really long time. In fact, at that stage, I still wasn’t entirely sure what a copywriter was – it seemed like all I had done up until that point was sit around in a room and chat. Turns out, that’s pretty much what the job entails. Anyway, at one point, I remember the first time in my advertising career that an idea ‘hit’ me. It wasn’t a good one, but at the time, it felt like the Universe gave me a cerebral high five. I stood up. I looked around importantly and said something that began with ‘What if…’ (I might have even raised my hands as though conjuring it out of thin air) and the room went silent. It was actually already silent because we had hit that lull when you’ve just been staring at each other for the last 20 minutes with nothing new to add, but it seemed to go even more silent. I was met with stares and then someone said three words that, sadly, I’ve heard many times since although it never seems to lose its sting: ‘It’s been done’. And that was it. The room seemed to move on. Except that I didn’t. I didn’t quite realise that what those words meant was that that idea and everything associated with it, was tarnished. It had become untouchable. Why? Because it was no longer unique; it was no longer pioneering; it was no longer art.

Of course, this leads us to ancient Egypt. It’s said that the first signs of advertising appeared here when the ancient Egyptians employed tall stone obelisks to publicise laws and treaties, using hieroglyphics. It was, in essence, the first billboard. The first time that someone decided that an outdoor space was a good place to try and convey information. At least, it’s the first record that we have of someone doing so. I would argue that the person who made that obelisk, if he were around today, would be in advertising. But the person who saw its genius and decided to put it on public walkways, outside shops, and on the road, was in marketing. Because if advertisers understand the human psyche, the marketers know which psyches they want to focus on. Why? Because they’ve literally spent years breaking down target audiences, studying case study after case study on how best to reach people and understanding every aspect of their market.

But herein lies the problem. On the one hand, you have people in advertising dismissing ideas if they’ve heard them before, and on the other hand, you have marketers with dwindling budgets wanting to implement ideas that they know work. You have people, working on the same goal of building brands, literally pulling in opposite directions.

So how do we solve this? The answer is simple: Hollywood. We’ve all grown up with our favourite action movies where the protagonist and antagonist have been at each other all movie long, only to finally come together to defeat their mutual enemy. We see them surrounded, without a chance of victory. Their enemy starts his monologue talking about how they are now irrelevant and that the world has moved on. Slowly, we see them sidle up to one another, standing back to back, and come to the understanding that if they use other’s strength, they can magnify their own. The realisation sets in. The music starts playing, they start to own the low angle ‘Ridley-Scott-esque’ shot slowly tracking around them, everything moves in slow motion… they’ll finally able to take on all their nemesis has to throw at them and become glorious.

But it starts here: trust. The advertisers have to know that they’re not about to run off and spend days or weeks pushing the boundaries only to have to produce something that the brand manager’s girlfriend came up with the night before. They have to know that they’re not in the creative equivalent of an abusive relationship where any expression of creativity is stifled. They have to be free. But advertisers, know this, if you’re going to be trusted, you have to have the brand’s interest at heart. Don’t chase after awards with scam ads that you’ve somehow got the client to run at 2am, against their best interests. Don’t come back with safe options that you think they’ll buy, but you know won’t work. They chose you above all other agencies because of the work you do. So do it.

Marketers, trust your initial instincts. After all, you’ve gone through a tenuous pitch process where you chose your current agency. And you did it for a good reason – you loved their work. So now trust them to do what they do. Make sure you don’t accept some pseudo strat based on ‘ unique insights’ that position the brand or product as something generic like ‘convenient’ or ‘service orientated’. Push for something that they can get their teeth into; something that will truly set you apart and then go for it.

Think about it this way. If Picasso had listened to all of his critics, what kind of work would he have produced? Would you really want to buy it? But, if someone hadn’t come around, recognised its true value and marketed it to the right people, would it still be worth what it is today?

So sidle up to your agency. Stand back-to-back with your client. Tie those bandanas around your head, cue the slow motion and let those Uzis rip.

David Cameron’s lesson in Advertising

On the 23rd of June 2016, David Cameron got a very real lesson in advertising. After years of pressure from opposition parties, Cameron decided to have a referendum to see if the British people wanted to stay with, or leave the EU. At the time, it was done as a low-risk ploy to keep the peace among the Tories before the 2015 general election. I doubt that any of his advisors thought there was a chance that people would actually vote to leave. Obviously, this was a mistake. Without getting into the politics, of which I am really not qualified to comment, there is something that we can learn: Never present an idea that you don’t believe in.

Now we’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a 6 o clock review and just presented an idea that the Art Director, Copywriter and Creative Director love… but others in the room are less enthusiastic about. The suggestion is to present the idea that we all love, but also take in a ‘safer’ option so that the client doesn’t think we’ve completely lost our minds, or worse yet, make us lose our retainer. So against our better judgement, we prep the other idea as well as the one we love. We don’t put as much thought into it, it’s not as well executed and it really does become the ugly step child, but that’s okay because ‘don’t worry guys – they’ll never go for it anyway. It’s just a safety net’.

And then you walk into your meeting. You stand up and present the work you love and low and behold, they love it too. Everyone is laughing (if it’s funny), ideas start shooting around the table, and you’ve done your job – you’ve inspired people to see what’s possible. Even the people on your team who were not as sure about the idea, now see the light… or at least, they see the delight on their client’s faces and that’s the same thing. And that’s where the presentation should end. But it doesn’t. You then click the arrow key on your keyboard and instead of saying ‘Thank you’, it says ‘Route 2’.

Now, in order to show the client that you’re not presenting them something that you don’t believe in, you try and put in the same presentation prowess as you did the first time round. The thing is that by this stage, they love you. They think you’re a creative genius. So anything you show them is going to have the Emperor’s New Clothing effect on them. If they don’t like it, it will almost be admitting that they don’t ‘get it’. Something that people are very unlikely to do. What they do see is that it is safe. And that it will probably speak to people who are ‘less sophisticated’ than them and therefore, it might not be that bad.

Before you know it, you’re representing a lemon; something you don’t like. Something that you are trying to ‘unsell’ because you know that it’s never going to work and in years to come, people are going to question what you were thinking. So don’t be David Cameron. And don’t go in with ideas you don’t believe just to keep everyone happy.

The Hitchhiker’s guide to ideas

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he gives a ‘how to’ guide on the basics of flying. It’s brilliant really. To some it up, he says that all you need to do is throw yourself at the floor… and miss. Genius. It is a little more complicated than that – and if you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour, read it – but it goes something like this.

He says that you need to throw yourself at the floor with every intention of hitting it, but then become accidentally distracted. In which case, you’ll find yourself flying. Well, bobbing or floating to be precise. He also says that you can’t try and distract yourself on purpose. If you do, you will hit the floor. Instead, you should put your full attention into knowing how hard the floor is going to hurt and really go for it. If, however, you are lucky enough to have that before mentioned attention, distracted, say by a lovely pair of legs, a bomb going off in the vicinity, or an extremely rare beetle, you may find yourself floating above the ground. You may be one of the lucky people who can afford one of his flying clubs where you pay to be distracted. This mainly comprises of people with odd body parts, or surprising opinions, jumping out from behind bushes at the exact crucial moment. Most hitchhikers, it is said, can’t afford these clubs.

If you find yourself floating, you should really not acknowledge it. Don’t listen to anybody else in this time either because it’s likely that anything they say is not going to be helpful. Instead, breathe regularly, try a few swoops and enjoy the sensation without putting too much thought into it. Or you might find it coming to a very sudden end.

I think that coming up with ideas works in the same way. If you truly want to come up with something original, about the worst thing you can do is try to focus on a way to do so. Instead, go off and do something else. Go play a game of squash, meet your mates for a pint, read a book, drive a car with the top down (The car’s, not yours. Although that will work too.), and then, all of a sudden, come back to your idea with vengeance. Try and be the person in the flying club that sneaks up on your brain and shows it an odd body part. Metaphorically speaking, of course. If you do, you may just find yourself floating, or bobbing. And then, whatever you do, don’t look down and don’t listen to people. Just go with it. Try a few swoops, play a little, but don’t acknowledge what you’re doing. Just enjoy it.

When you’ve safely landed, then take stock of what’s just happened. You’ve been privy to something truly original – an idea. Untainted. Untarnished. Just the pure raw energy of what the world is made of. Savour it. Cherish it. Then do all you can to write it down, record it, take mental pictures, or carve it in stone, but whatever you do, capture it. Original ideas are a privilege and you’ve just had one.

Of course, this is just one way of many to come up with them. There really isn’t a formula. But the one thing that I’ve found that is common with all ideas is that you need to give them the space and time to appear. If it’s too rushed, too calculated, too forced or too mechanical, you’re going to hit the floor.