Stories are a perfect pitching device. Yet, despite the many agencies that declare themselves “brand storytellers”, they don’t always deploy that same skill on their behalf.
They get swallowed up by their own jargon or blindly grasp for the right words to describe the intangible qualities that make them different from their peers—with the ironic result that they end up sounding exactly the same.
If this applies to you, then I want to offer you a technique to use on your next pitch.
Earlier this week, someone told me she liked my approach because, “you’re not just about presentation skills.”
I think what she was getting at is that I tend to be prescriptive and offer solutions that get to the root of the disease, not just treat the symptoms.
But the comment got me thinking about what it takes to be an effective presenter—specifically one that can persuade an audience to buy what she’s selling.
You know the aphorism: no amount of marketing can fix a bad product.
It’s the same with presentation skills – all the training in the world won’t turn you into a strong presenter if don’t solve some underlying problems first.
Here's a simple set of three quality control factors you can apply to your slide decks before writing a big check to a presentation coach.
A couple of weeks ago I got to speak at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect conference, a one-day event devoted to helping ad agencies sharpen their new business skills.
There was some great content presented, and one of the best sessions featured four client-side marketers who graciously agreed to expose their underbellies to us. It’s always a lucky opportunity when we agency folk can ask clients candid questions about what we’re doing right and what we could do better.
In this case, I learned some new things, but mostly I was struck by how little things seem to change. Clients are trying just as hard as we are to stay on top of the constantly-shifting sands of marketing, not to mention the demands of their jobs.
Agencies are perfectly positioned to be a source of a help. So why do they often end up being more of a hindrance?
Stories are engaging, memorable and repeatable—and this has big implications for winning over new clients. Wrapping your sales message in a story not only makes it easy for your prospects to understand your value, they’re also more likely to remember your message and repeat to others what they liked about you and why they want to hire you.
See the video.
Effective salespeople know that a good story is the fastest route between them and winning new business.
This is especially true for ad agencies. Advertising is a craft that relies on abstract thought processes that lead to inspirational ideas like “Just do it.” The problem is, abstract ideas are difficult to describe and even more difficult to value. That’s why it’s so easy to succumb to meaningless, anemic phrases like “fully integrated,” “digital-first” and “consumer at the core” when trying to describe what you do to a prospective client.
Stories, on the other hand, make the intangible tangible. Discover how this technique, as old as humanity itself, is one of the easiest ways to win new business.
See the video
You know how it feels when you get so close to a topic that you begin to lose any sense of perspective? How many of you feel that way about your ad agency's credentials deck? How many hours have you spent debating with your team about whether the client slide should go before or after the awards slide?
Those are hours you will never get back my friends, because no one outside your agency cares about the answer.
Last month, I extolled the virtues of Nancy Duarte’s Sparklines, a presentation method designed to draw an audience over to your side of an argument. This month, I tell you how to use this technique to transform the garden variety creds deck into a persuasive sales tool.
Those of you who know me or have worked with me know that my mission is to help ad agencies and creative services firms communicate more persuasively. When I find a tool or technique that has the potential for changing that behavior, I pass it on. Nancy Duarte's Sparklines is one of those tools.
Sparklines was developed after she asked herself "what does persuasion look like?" She’s certainly qualified to explore the question. Her company, Duarte, helps organizations like Google and Apple tell effective stories through presentation. To find the answer, she analyzed two extraordinary presentations: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch in 2007.
Essentially, it’s is a method for drawing an audience over to your side of an argument by presenting a series of contrasts between what is and what could be. It's one of the most compelling presentation structures I've ever seen. Plus, it's not a technique that's difficult to learn. In fact, it has more to do with reframing your presentations than reinventing them.
Why is so much advertising agency-speak filled with unnecessary words and generalizations?
I’m always urging my ad agency clients to eliminate unnecessary words in their writing for new business and marketing. As Mark Twain noted, it’s an easy exercise that requires little effort and has a big impact.
But wordiness may be a symptom more than a diagnosis. The real diagnosis may be what Chip and Dan Heath call the “Curse of Knowledge” in their book, Made to Stick.
Experts like doctors, academics, attorneys… and the majority of advertising professionals often succumb to the curse. But my latest blog post offers you one technique to avoid it.
Think about the number of agencies you’re aware of (including your own) that have a truly differentiated work process.
If you’re being honest, the answer is easy: not many. Whether it’s three steps or twenty-three steps, most agency work processes look the same. In fact, sometimes I think they’re more of an afterthought, something to be written up for an RFP response but rarely put into action in real life.
But Park Howell, founder of agency Park&Co., channeled his fascination for the power of storytelling (a fascination I happen to share) into a work process he calls the Story Cycle that's become an integral part of all his client engagements.
Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and the latest, Inside Out - why are Pixar films so universally charming and compelling? ("And what, exactly, does that have to do with my ad agency's positioning?" you ask. Patience, you'll find out.)
A former Pixar story artist named Emma Coats discovered that all Pixar plots follow one simple format. And it forms the basis of a perfect pitch.
Want to know what this magic formula is? Check out my latest blog post on how the Pixar Pitch is an ideal hack for developing your ad agency's positioning.
Almost universally, agency pitch teams hate to rehearse. But one of the many advantages is the freedom it gives you to read the room – instead of reading your notes (or worse yet, reading off your slides). The better you know your material, the easier it is to change course if you feel the attention of your audience slipping away.
This point hit home for me recently when I found myself confronted by a roomful of blank stares. My stomach dropped. What was I doing wrong? Find out -- and how I fixed it -- in my latest
The idea that storytelling is an important part of the sales process is nothing new (in fact, if you’d like to read more on the subject, I’ve included three good sources at the end of this post).
Successful advertising agencies tell stories all day everyday on behalf of their clients – great stories about brands that capture the imagination. Ironically, this skill often doesn’t get translated when the agency writes its own case studies. I’ve observed an almost contradictory tendency to say too much without ever really getting to the most important point. Here’s an example, paraphrased from countless case studies I’ve seen from my clients (names changes to protect the innocent):