Presentation Tips for Agency Life

June 4, 2018

When I was writing last week’s post on the new business process, I started to conflate the idea of the pitch process with the presentation itself – and as the list was getting a little unwieldy so I broke these out because presenting is one of the most important skills to have in business. Being able to command a room. Communicating an idea – not just the “what” but the “why. Building rapport with folks you’ve never met before.

Careers can be made and broken in presentations and in the exposure to increasingly senior colleagues. I can point to at least five people I’ve worked with who were subsequently (and quite rightly) labelled as up and coming rock stars on the strength of their performance in a presentation. But what is often forgotten is that presenting is a team sport, so these are some tips to building and delivering a great presentation:

  1. Be the best you. A lot of this is just a reminder to do whatever makes you comfortable. From how you like to prepare, to what to wear and how to deliver your story. If something seems interesting and you try it and it works that’s great. If you read something don’t think it will work for you, that’s fine too. Hopefully you can take this and push yourself outside your comfort zone to be a little better at one of the truly important business skills.
  2. What’s your story? When you introduce yourself, either as a team or as an individual, tell a story. For you, personally, don’t let anyone else introduce you because it discounts your own expertise and builds unnecessary cognitive distance between you, your expertise and the story you’re about to tell.
  3. Tell a story with a theme. Its been called a thread of steel for a reason. If you can hang your pitch on one thing, you’ll be a few steps ahead of most of your opposition. Tell a story with an emotional arc and you’ll be miles ahead.
  4. Not having the courage of your convictions. You have a great idea that you love but instead of putting all your faith in that basket, you decide you need a second idea for the client to “kill”. Now you’ve divided your focus, your time and your audience’s attention. A great idea should be able to stand on its own; two ideas shows you’re second guessing yourself
  5. Who said that? I helped a couple of clients with agency selection last year and although we only saw two agencies, I found myself getting lost between who said what. Imagine that multiplied by five or six. One of the keys to pitching is being memorable and being provocative – bring that through into the presentation itself.
  6. Get the timing right. An old colleague would time you down to the second for your piece. Its a great practice, as is enforcing the timing. Nothing worse than someone stealing time in the up front because it puts the back end of the presentation at massive risk. We all have absolute horror stories on this one – the problem is the more senior you are, the more likely you are to steal time up front and the more likely it is that the junior folks have to “pay” for it by cutting their own sections on the fly.
  7. Don’t worry about repeating yourself. The folks you’re pitching to are seeing maybe three, maybe four, maybe eight agencies just like you. Repeating yourself and others can help your ideas be remembered. Hopefully through the quality of your ideas and being as provocative as you can be practical will help as well.
  8. Repeat other people. As well as being a team sport, presenting is another word for persuasion. Strengthen your collective argument by strengthening your collagues’ arguments – I always like to call back to something smart my colleagues have said to cement what they said and to build the argument I’m trying to make as well. You can do this in the q&a section as well
  9. To script or not to script? Whatever makes you the most comfortable. Some people need to be 100% scripted, others 100% off the cuff. Personally, I like to know what I need to say in general but also have specific sayings or turns of phrase that I can sprinkle in throughout. I often over write myself and the sayings can feel a little trite or staged, so I need to practice until they feel natural. Then I like to use visualisation to “see” me saying it in the room.
  10. Reciting vs Presenting. Again, whatever makes you feel comfortable. An old ECD I worked with used to have their notes on index cards which they always held, but never looked at. They were an amazing presenter and I always loved that quirk. I find that if I ever have notes, I get lost on where I’m supposed to be so they don’t work for me.
  11. Piling on. In the q&a section, it can be very hard to be consistent when there are lots of people answering the same question with their particular take on the subject. Because of that, I like the rule of one answer and one follow-on if its in a formal presentation. If its more of an organic conversation, the rules are a little different but for a client. However, I can’t imagine its great for a client to ask a question and hear three or four answers back – or how those answers can all be consistent
  12. Edit, edit edit. Too often we fall in love with certain sections, certain ideas or certain slides. As the presentation evolves, the content has to change too. Be ruthless (ruthless) in your editing. You don’t need all those words on a slide. You don’t need all those pictures or charts or graphs. You need simple, bold imagery which support what you say, not distract from it. Come to think of it, you may not even need a “deck” at all.
  13. What to wear? There are two schools of thought here. One is to dress about 25% more formal than the people you are presenting to. This builds credibility in you before you open your mouth. The second is to wear whatever makes you comfortable and ready to go so you can do the best job you can. Track pants and a hoody are comfortable at home but if I’m in a board room, I usually go for jeans, a crisp shirt and a sharp blazer. YMMV.
  14. Nail the landing. End with a bang, not a whimper.

Like the pitch process post last week, I’ll try to add to this as I see or pick up new tips.

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What can go wrong, and right, during a pitch

May 28, 2018

I love a good pitch. The chaos, the creativity brought into sharp sharp focus by the constraints of time, the late nights, the camaraderie and the sheer relief at the end of it.

By no means am I an expert (the Mirren folks, Barry and Peter Coughter are amazing resources for people who need real help on pitches) but I’ve been a part of enough pitches to start this, an occasionally updated list of all the things that can and have go wrong in the beautiful, ugly, fulfilling and frustrating process of pitching new business as an agency. The list started to dovetail into the presentation side of things but that deserves its own post in the next couple of weeks.

  1. Pitching in the first place. My old boss used to say “there are two winners to every pitch. The winners and the folks that drop out first”. I love the qualifying questions Deutsch sends out, and its always great to know if there is a “preferred” agency…
  2. What’s the why? The minute an RFP comes in, there are a tonne of unanswered questions which can help your cause. Why this and why now are two pretty important ones.
  3. All in, early. You can’t run a winning pitch with folks in the wings dropping in and out of the process. If you’re in, you’re all in and you’re all in right from the start.
  4. Who’s in charge? Knowing the decision maker on the client side and what drives them will help you make all the big decisions you’ll need to make. What is their personality type? What will they respond best to? How can we convince them? Can we presell andy of the approach/strategy/ideas? If you’re in the dark, you’re hoping for the best and as a former colleague says, “hope is not a strategy”.
  5. Who’s in charge (pt II)? It sounds so basic, especially when its a bunch of senior folks but having one person who can drive the process within the agency and veto even the most senior person in them is oh so important to your ability to make decisions and move forward, constantly. Having to reverse can be a death knell to a pitch.
  6. Communication. Pitching builds camaraderie because of the massive pressures – and nothing kills that rapport more than someone on the team going rogue. A high functioning team needs to communicate well and often (d’uh) so implementing scrum sessions / group texts / slack channels can keep everyone on the same page.
  7. Getting more time. If you get a week’s extension, or even more, take the time to consider if you want to optimise what you’ve already got or toss it and start again. This is good for your everyday life as well.
  8. What’s in it for them, not me? If you’re on the list, or in the room, the potential client knows why. Don’t talk about yourself unless its in the context of how what you’ve done and achieved in the past can help this particular client This is a key part of how we picked up a tonne of business in the past. Once you’ve done it this way, you’ll never want to pitch the old school style creds deck again.
  9. Are you pitching to win? Or are you pitching the work you want to do? Sometimes there’s a difference and if there is, this is a choice to make right at the start…and follow it through. Losing smarts either way.
  10. Focus, focus, focus. Another decision to make is how far down the line are you going? Are you going to lay out a deep, rich, insightful strategy, buoyed by real consumer research and testing? Are you going to lay it on the line with an awesome, compelling idea? And if so, how will you show the idea? Will you make stuff for it? This comes back to knowing your client and committing to your path forward.
  11. Timing vs Process. Pitches are incredibly compressed and one of the biggest decisions is how you’re going to get everything done. You are rarely in the position to work with the potential clients as if you were actually working with them in the research > strategy > brief > creative > creative reviews > creative tweaks > final creative > experience layers // propagation // etc. So, are you going to waterfall, agile or parallel path everything? There’s value and risk in each approach and as always, you need to make that decision early, rather than have it made for you. One of the biggest wins I was part of was a parallel path job with all the strands being brought back together right at the end…with literally minutes to spare.
    • Truth be told, its much easier to pitch as a (traditional) PR shop, than as a creative shop, in general. Within the PR construct, you have generalists of varying levels of seniority who can strategise and ideate almost simultaneously, vs the creative agency structure of having specialists work in something more like a waterfall process. Personally, I think the creative process gives you higher highs, but similarly lower lows. The PR process is more consistent but rarely hits the same heights.
  12. Be memorable. The folks you’re pitching to are seeing maybe three, maybe four, maybe eight agencies just like you. How will you stand out? Hopefully through the quality of your ideas and being as provocative as you can be practical As an aside, I don’t usually like the over-staging of rooms for the sake of it (there are better things to focus your time and emotion on), but if the theme fits with the theme of your pitch I’m all for it. It’s more interesting to hold important meetings in interesting places which, increasingly, is not in a board room.
    • The story of a big Canadian business proactively asking agencies pitching them to not include any lions in the meeting shows some clients feel the same. (one agency still did)
  13. Celebrate. Once you’ve delivered the pitch, make sure you take the time to take a breath and celebrate the hard work from everyone who touched the pitch. One of the nicest ways to decompress after the chaos is a late lunch on a sunny patio with cold beer and old stories.

That’s what I could think of – what have I missed? What else would you add?


What are the components to great storytelling?

May 7, 2018

pexels-photo-261784.jpeg

It seems like storytelling is all the rage these days. Marketers, communicators, sales people, journalists, trade pubs. Everyone is a storyteller these days – and everyone is advocating for telling great stories. Just like we all (present company included) advocated for “making great content”.

But its never that simple. What is a great piece of content? What is its role? How does it move people, and how does it move people along the path to purchase?

I spent a few days last month with a client thinking about not just the importance of story telling, but the core components of how to tell a great one. The types and genres of stories we tell have come a long way since Shakespeare. The Bard had a choice of two storylines – between a tragedy (extreme suffering for the main character, like Hamlet) and a comedy (a happy ending, usually marriage as in a Midsummer’s Night Dream)

Nowadays, we have a lot more to chose from and its important to look at the core components of how we can tell a story both personally and from a brand perspective. Here are some the things we came up with:

The audience – the way you tell a story and even what story you want to tell is totally dependent on who you’re telling the story to. I wouldn’t have told a bawdy tale from a university night out to my grandparents, but I would relish telling it to friends from school. If this post-social world has taught us anything, its that businesses need to be focused on their audiences and serving their needs to move the business forward.

The location – just like audience drives the story, so does location. An Irish pub is going to play host to a very different type of story than a boardroom or a living room. For me, this one speaks to channel planning and selection – not all stories belong on all social platforms.

The delivery – everyone has a different story telling style; some are animated and boisterous while others are soft spoken, still as a board and every bit as compelling. Just like the others on this list, the right delivery depends on knowing your audience and what they will respond well to. In the business context, I’d equate this to format planning – do you need a piece of film (long? short? medium?) or an article? A pretty picture with a killer line or a multi-part execution? Static or immersive? The story you tell and the way you deliver it makes a huge difference.

The emotions – I want to do a bit of a deep dive into emotional resonance because it gets misused and is often a crutch for weaker strategic thinking but the emotions you want to evoke are a huge part of finding, constructing and telling a story. Do you want the audience to be awed, do you want them to be energised and motivated or do you want them to be sad? For businesses, we don’t need to guess – Karen Nelson-Field in her book Viral Marketing has done the work for us and the most important thing is that you play on emotional extremes if you want to have impact in your storytelling, if you want your story to travel, so to speak. To whit, focus on any emotion but make sure you can evoke the extreme end – as with most things, you don’t want to be in the middle.

emotional resonance karen nelson field

The story teller – of course, the person telling the story is a key component. What is the point of telling the story in the first place? What are your motivations and what do you hope to accomplish? What do you have authority and legitimacy to tell stories about? Each business is different – some audiences seek out stories from certain businesses while other businesses need to push their stories into the lives of the audience. Which one are you? It makes a big difference.

Structure – as we talked about stories, I was reminded of the way Pixar creates a framework for its own stories. Like most good stories, it is simple, timeless and endlessly malleable.

It looks something like this:

Once upon a time there was a _________

Every day _________

One day ______ (this is called the inciting incident)

Because of that _________

Because of that _________

Until finally _________

pixar storytelling rules

I don’t know about you, but to me that seems like a pretty good brief for a long standing narrative that a business can tell about itself, its origins, its motivations, its place in the world and how it wants to make the lives of its users/consumers/audiences better.

So there you have it; the six key components to good story telling:

  • Audience
  • Location
  • Delivery
  • Emotion
  • Storyteller
  • Structure

For more practical advice on telling great stories for your business, get in touch and we’ll see what we can come up with together.

 


What is an insight?

February 7, 2017

This post was first published on Hill + Knowlton Strategies. More on that change in my life later!

header-what-is-an-insight

What is an insight?

They are the things upon which multimillion (billion?) dollar decisions are made.

That entrepeneurs bet their careers and family’s lives on.

That companies are founded on.

That political leaders stake their reputations and campaign on.

But what, really is an insight? For me, the best way to define an insight is to paraphrase entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel, of PayPal fame, and say that every insight is a secret. And as with all secrets, the less people who know about it, the more powerful it is.

This especially hits home for all strategists. How long do we toil through data, through focus groups, through online behavior and through popular culture to find those secrets? How overjoyed or relieved do we feel when we find one – and how much do we subsequently protect it, polish it and decide how best to use it.

But not all secrets are the same. As we talked about this within H+K, we identified five core types of secrets or insights that we use to solve our client’s business problems.

Those we discover on our own: this is the classic secret where one person’s brilliance, persistence and intuition leads to a completely new discovery. Thiel calls this the Pythagorean secret and eventually they cease becoming secrets and start becoming convention.

Those that are commonly held but that we chose to use in unusual ways: this is the act of taking an insight from one industry or category and applying it to another. Insights gleaned from years of pitching media relations stories can be used to reshape a brand strategy. Insights into the purchase journey of buying a car can be applied to that of buying term life insurance.

Those that only we can see or understand thanks to data and analysis: this is what I would call the “Moneyball” secret. The answer is staring us in the face, if only we can interpret the data properly and get over our own inherent biases to realize that On Base Percentage (Hits + Walks) is more valuable than slugging percentage (which measures power).

Those that allow us to reframe a problem or belief. Our WPP colleague Rory Sutherland brilliantly reframes the spending of six billion pounds to shave 40 minutes off the Eurostar journey by simply making the journey infinitely more pleasurable – through the use of models and vintage wines.

Those that we can combine to make more powerful. Like the five mechanical lions coming together to form Voltron: Legendary Defender (my son’s current favourite show), the act of combining many small and powerful secrets together makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts, and allows us to solve bigger problems for our clients.

The definition of insight is something we can, and have, debated for days. However, the inarguable truth is: if you want to forge truly meaningful connections with consumers or stakeholders, your communication needs to be rooted in an insight into their lives, their needs and their behaviours…and your business’ role therein.


Is Social Media Over-rated? Is Digital Marketing Out-dated? Is Integration really the big word for 2016?

March 21, 2016

Lots of people forwarded me this video (for obvious reasons) and there was plenty of discussion about its merits within the agency. As a result, after watching it a few times, I wrote the following POV and also started following Mark on Twitter.

Mark Ritson’s talk, “Why Social Media is Over-rated, Digital Marketing is Out-dated and why integration is the big word for 2016” is more aptly named for the world of soundbites and sub-tweets, rather than the substance and smart thinking it contains.

  • If your view of social media is real-time tweets, published in reaction to something just four minutes after the fact, then yes, it may be over rated. In truth, social media is so much more than brands publishing to shared social networks.
  • If digital marketing is silo’ed within your organization, then yes, it is likely out-dated. The truth is, you don’t need a digital business strategy, you need a business strategy for the digital age.
  • If integration, and holistic media neutral thinking, are key themes for 2016, then we’re happy to have been ahead of the trend.

However, Mark’s talk had three core themes, which I picked out and fully support…nuance and all:

  1. The organic reach for social media content (as exemplified by the “dunk in the dark” tweet he referenced) is almost negligible. And by extension, a brand’s communities on Facebook and Twitter are made up of absurdly low percentages of their actual customers. For us at Tribal, this represents the importance of paid media to ensure brands enjoy the sort of scale they need to make a difference to their businesses. Since the social media platforms became public companies, and as Mark himself goes on to say, this is an advertising medium. If it ever really existed, the free ride for brands is over. Therefore we should use the tried and tested rules of creating advertising.
  1. Because Celebrities and News Media outperform almost all other brands, (most) brands in their current guise are not welcome in social media. This reminded me of the Howard Gossage quote “people don’t read ads—they read what interests them, and sometimes it is an ad.” We are all forced to consider how we can be interesting and compelling for consumers while also driving our businesses forward. This point also reminds us that owned (websites) and shared (social networks) aren’t the only media in town. Borrowing equity from celebrities, publishers and influencers, or forging “all stars” from within the organization, who can create and propagate content on the brand’s behalf has incredible value if you can reach the required scale.
  1. We need to go back to the “old” rules of marketing, answering the key questions of “who is my target,” “what does my brand mean” and “what is my budget” in a world of zero-based budgeting, media neutrality, clear distinction and proper briefings between client and agency, and performance-based compensation. At Tribal, our bias is in digital and our belief is that powerful creative ideas, which stem from a digital or social insight, have a business-changing impact, beyond digital.

Once you get past the headline and into the body copy, you’ll hear Mark Ritson say that if digital and social media works for your business, as it does for some of his clients, you should go all in, but you should let data guide you. Brands have become complacent and lazy in trying new strategies. They have lost sight of what they are trying to achieve and how to measure success. They are scared to fail and therefore scared of learning or of adapting at the speed of culture, technology and consumers. The best brands who see value from social media show a willingness to invent and be different, a willingness to be free from corporate restraint and embrace the true power of social media – not the ability to simply publish content but in creating a network around your brand.

As an agency, we believe in the power of social media as a marketing channel because we’ve done what many others have not or cannot – we have unlocked this potential for our clients.


Everyday Football Fouls and Flops

July 13, 2014

Footballers diving and feigning injury has been done before:

but not as well as this, from Fourgrounds Films of Canada, via NPR:

If we all reacted to contact in our everyday situations like football players by a film and video production company in Niagara, Canada. http://www.fourgrounds.com

 


World Cup 2014 – Best of the Best Ads

May 20, 2014

I love the World Cup. The best players in the world, the roar of the Three Lions, the heartache of England losing on penalties. The ads which can cross over into popular culture.

Nike shows a journey from footy in the park to the pinnacle of the world. One of the best things about world cup ads is that the boot manufacturers get to show off all their best sponsored athletes and we get to see them doing amazing skills.

Whereas adidas focuses on just one player, but what a player he is:

An inspiring, tear-jerking, emotionally charged piece of film brought to you by Powerade:

Samsung pays homage to one of the great series of Nike ads, “The Mission“:

ESPN makes Brazil look pretty tempting about now:

Whereas back in the UK, ITV plays on the emotions we footy fans face (well, all sports fans):

 


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