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 writing workshops, Persuasive Writing for New Business, because ad agencies immediately feel comfortable with the format. After all, they’re in the storytelling business themselves.

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 ad agencies struggled to communicate their value through the written word. Every day, they’d rely on jargon and generalizations, which only weakened their message, making it harder to persuade new clients to work with them. One day, a new business pro got tired of seeing good agencies fail to live up to their potential because of bad writing. Because of that, she called a journalist friend and they developed a workshop to teach agencies how to be better writers. Because of that, agencies became persuasive communicators. 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.