Musings from A Mad Man

Jun 26, 2014


Musings from a Mad Man

David Bell may be the closest thing we have to Roger Sterling today (or Bert Cooper as Andy Brownell has said), and for good reason (apart from the fact that he was around in those old Mad Men days). The man has quite a résumé. As the former CEO of Interpublic Group of Companies (yeah, that’s that big old ad agency holding company that owns giants like Deutsch, FCB, McCann Erickson, The Martin Agency & Mullen to name a few), he’s been the leader of huge acquisitions and even huger agency pitches. David claimed that in a given year as Interpublic’s CEO, he would be a part of 365 pitches…yeah one a day! All of those big-time pitches over his 50-year career have allowed David to master the art of sales, the key to ad agency survival. A few lucky Curiosity team members had the opportunity to hear David give a presentation about the “art of the pitch” at a recent Cincy Ad Club luncheon, and there were some great nuggets on sales from his discussion that I thought I’d share with the world!

1) Know thy audience!
Is this phrase a cliché by now marketers and communicators everywhere? Pretty much, but according to David, it’s amazing how often agencies fail to really think about the emotions of those they pitch to. We’ve all seen those personality matrices that categorize people into different groups, and David has one of his own. According to him, every person you pitch to falls into one of these four groups:
• Results People: These are folks who believe in data above all else. They need to see how ROI pans out in advertising, because to them, quantitative results are the only means to gauge success.
• Analyticals: This group is addicted to process and seeing how we get to point B from point A. When you talk to them about advertising, they need to see how the process to success is mapped out or else they can’t justify what’s being proposed.
• Relationship-ers: They want to work with real PEOPLE—human beings who they can connect with and trust. They want to be able to have a powerful chemistry with their agency contacts.
• Promoters: Here are the folks who want the fame and glory from a great ad campaign, and they want to work with an agency who can deliver that.

Always take the time pre-pitch to learn about who you’re pitching to and where they fall within these groups. Think about who they really are and what their background is. That changes what you present and how you present it!

2) Create your own vocabulary!
I think we can all come up with a list of advertising words that frankly give us a headache…buzzwords. Why are buzzwords, buzzwords? Because we are all using them, every agency is using them and every pitch incorporates them, over and over and over. David put it bluntly, “Throw out any word that is ad-speak, and trash it immediately! Why would you use a term that everyone uses? Why not make up your own term, something new, something fresh…people buy fresh.” When clients hear a new word or concept they’ve never heard before, they want to know more—even if what it defines is something they’re familiar with. So the next time you plan a pitch, take a look at the language you’re using to present it. What words fall into ad-speak? What can you do to change that word into something original and unique, something cool? The language you use is a direct representation of who you are as an agency—so ask yourself, are you unique and cool, or like everyone else?

3) Death by PowerPoint is an epidemic!
When David began his discussion on PowerPoint (without any visuals or PowerPoint), he held nothing back. His advice on was simple: “Never, ever use PowerPoint as the primary means of your presentation!” David’s contempt towards PowerPoint is based on three things:
• It takes the power out of the hands of the client. When you’re running a PowerPoint, you’re in control, and you determine what gets discussed and when, which by default puts the client in a position of helplessness. They should ALWAYS feel as if they have the power, because that’s what makes them confident in the situation they’re in. Being strapped to a chair to watch a presentation removes that power.
• PowerPoints insult the intelligence of the audience. The client watching the presentation is smart enough to read and comprehend what’s on each slide, they don’t need you to do it for them! And if you do it for them, you’re lecturing, not presenting. Clients don’t want to be lectured to; they want to be part of the discussion of the pitch.
• Most importantly, PowerPoints kill all potential for real person-to-person connection. A pitch is the one place where you have the chance to interact with the client, and a PowerPoint immediately establishes a brick wall that prevents that interaction from taking place—the discussion becomes a one-way street where the presenter is the only one communicating. You never want a client to leave a pitch thinking that they couldn’t connect with the presenting agency, so ditch the PowerPoint in order to avoid this result.

4) Handwritten thank-you notes ain’t that old school!
David must be close to 80, so he is well accustomed to writing handwritten thank-you notes to clients after giving a pitch. But in a world where email is the primary mode of communication, a handwritten thank-you note is like a golden ticket, something rare and special that isn’t given out all that often. It’s critical after a pitch to deliver a kind message to the clients who sat through your presentation, so show them how thankful you are by actually taking the time write them something in ink.

The list of David’s insightful ideas goes on far past what I’ve discussed above. The big-picture idea out of all of this is simple: Agencies are in a business to help clients be different—why wouldn’t agencies take their own medicine and try to differentiate themselves from the pack in a pitch?