A few months back, I wrote some “dos” and “don’ts” for making a great ad agency showreel. My overriding piece of advice: don’t be like Narcissus, so fixated by his own reflection that he could do nothing else but stare at it until he perished.

That advice applies to pretty much every other piece of marketing and sales content you create for your advertising agency.

Then last month, I extolled the virtues of Nancy Duarte’s Sparklines, a presentation method designed expressly to draw an audience over to your side of an argument. Duarte discovered it when analyzing two equally persuasive speeches with very different purposes and audiences: Steve Jobs’ 2007 iPhone launch and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The prospect always has an agenda.
The first question to ask yourself is "Why is my agency in the mix?"

She noticed that both had a pattern that went back-and-forth between telling the audience “what is” and “what can be.” The contrast between the two created a profound connection through empathy and aspiration.
(At this point, if you’re feeling lost, stop to read my post or watch this video of Duarte explaining how Sparklines works.)

I thought I’d combine the two in the context of another sales tool that falls subject to the perils of naval gazing: the credentials presentation.

Sparklines is a device that can help you reframe the content in a way that just might save you from your own reflection. The parts are familiar but the emphasis is different – less about you and more about the prospect and how you’ll serve them.

Let's set the scene.

Whether the result of a proactive pursuit or word-of-mouth referral, a prospect has asked you to present your ad agency’s credentials. The first thing to ask yourself is what are the motives behind this invitation?
There’s always an agenda. Usually it’s due to changes in the prospect’s core business, marketing operations, or a combination of the two.

Operational: The prospect...

  • Doesn’t have confidence in their agency
  • Doesn’t have an agency
  • Has changing agency needs
  • Placed a new person in role of CMO or
    agency liaison
  • Has a corporate mandate to review contracts
    on a regular basis


Business: The company...

  • Has a new owner or is undergoing a merger
  • or acquisition
  • Is evolving its business model
  • Is introducing new products or services
  • Is facing new marketing challenges
  • Has new competitors


Here are a few ways Sparklines can help you respond to the prospect’s agenda and change the frame of reference from you to them

What could be: Instead of opening with the usual self-referential clients and awards slides, start with a statement of where you see the prospect’s business a year from now. Does that make you squirm with the presumptuousness of it? Fair enough. Instead of presenting your thoughts as an agency professional, do it as a consumer. You wouldn’t be pitching the business of you didn’t think the product or service had some consumer value – what do you think would make it more awesome?  

What is: Contrast that with the current situation – the challenges, but also any opportunities that might be hiding in plain sight. Again, you may have a lot of information from the prospect or almost nothing at all. In the case of the latter, do some inexpensive baseline research with Gut Check  or Survey Monkey.

What could be: Demonstrate to the prospect that you’ve solved similar challenges in the past. Showing case studies and work examples that tie back to the prospect’s challenges allows them to project how you’d apply the same level of smarts to their business and gets them to think “I want that!”

What is: Tell them you’re ready to go now. You’ve got the team with the right experience, a work process that’s successfully used for other clients, and the right technology, tools, and partners in place.

What could be: End with a suggested plan of action. It doesn’t have to be detailed or long-range (but also don’t make it an afterthought thrown together on the way to the meeting). Give them an idea of how you’d deploy your team, tools, and process if you were to start tomorrow. 

What this doesn’t tell you – what I can’t give you – is what Duarte calls the STAR (something they’ll always remember) moment that’s nestled between the gaps of what is and what will be. Just like only you can decide your life’s mission, only you can identify what the STAR moment is in any given presentation that will keep your audience talking and debating about the perspectives you’ve presented to them.