A parent trying to get his kid to eat broccoli. A doctor urging her patient to stick to a healthy routine. A business person who wants to convince her boss to approve a risky project. All of these are examples of people trying to persuade other people to do something they may not be predisposed to do. That’s the very definition of sales!

Have you read Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell is Human? If you’re an ad agency, design firm or any other kind of creative services business, and you shudder at the very thought of sales, then consider this book required reading.

His basic premise: we’re all salespeople.

Pink gives you easy techniques to help you become a better salesperson – especially if that description is not an obvious part of your job title.

And one of my favorites is the Pixar Pitch.

Pink didn’t invent it. A former story artist at Pixar named Emma Coats did. She discovered that all Pixar movie plots follow one simple format. Dan Pink suggests it forms the basis of a perfect pitch.

And I love it for several reasons --

  1. It takes pitching, something we think we’d rather avoid, and combines it with storytelling, an activity we’ve craved ever since we were cavemen.

  2. It’s accessible. You literally just need to fill in the blanks.

  3. I can’t say it any better than Dan Pink himself:
    “It takes advantage of the persuasive force of storytelling but within a framework that forces conciseness and discipline.“

We’ve been incorporating it into our positioning and strategy workshops because ad agencies immediately feel comfortable with the format. After all, they’re in the storytelling business themselves.

Every Pixar movie follows a formula—and you can use the same formula to test the strength of your pitch.

Every Pixar movie follows a formula—and you can use the same formula to test the strength of your pitch.

In fact, one of our clients, after attending the workshop, decided to make the Pixar Pitch the framework for all her agency pitches going forward. (Thank you, Emma Coates!) Ready to know what it is?

Once upon a time____________________. Every day ____________________. One day____________________. Because of that,____________________. Because of that, ____________________. Until finally,___________________.

It’s that simple! Here’s how it worked for Finding Nemo:

Once upon a time there was a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away. One day in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water. Because of that he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney. Because of that Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way. Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.

Since I believe you have to test your own advice before you can give it to others, I wrote a Pixar Pitch for our Persuasive Writing workshops back when we were conceiving the idea. Here it is – you can see how easily the format can be adapted to uncover the kernel of a positioning statement:

Once upon a time small agencies struggled to win enough of the right kind of business. Every day, they’d do too little of the wrong kinds of things, or throw themselves into a big pitch without thinking strategically about a sales strategy, or even if it was the right client for them. One day, a new business pro got tired of seeing these good agencies fail to live up to their potential because of poor pitch practices. Because of that, she developed systems and tools expressly for small agencies, taking into consideration their strengths and available resources. Because of that, the agencies were able to set up and sustain a successful new business operation. Until finally, they started pitching more successfully and winning more new clients.

Let me modify something I said earlier. It’s not quite as simple as just filling in the blanks— that’s part 1 of the exercise, and it’s more for you than for your prospects. In part 2, you’ll want to modify the language so it’s more appropriate for a professional use.

Nevertheless, it’s a technique that effectively gets you past the difficult, abstract task of articulating your value and your positioning.