The Fine Art of Pitching Your Creative

In the life of a professional advertiser, web/mobile designer, integrated marketer or creative director, there are few things more intimidating than preparing and pitching the first round of creative. It’s kind of like being a football coach who is designing plays for a big game – but with a lot more caffeine.

All agencies go through a great deal of hard work, revisions, discussions, debates and the eventual verbal equivalent of “king of the mountain” before a big reveal. Beyond all that hand-wringing, there are some key things you can do in order to ultimately win the client’s approval.

Think back to when you were a kid and you wanted something from your father. The best approach was to make him think it was HIS idea. Clients are really no different fundamentally when they listen to your pitch. However, getting that “yes” from a decision-maker is a lot more complex than getting dear ol’ Dad to pony up 79 cents for a box of Cracker Jack. 

It is a fine art. 

The Pre-Pitch: 

  • Define and cover the client’s goals and objectives.
  • Define the demographic of the client’s customer base.
  • Research and evaluate direct competitors.
  • Be mindful of indirect customers and industries that cross over into the space.
  • Define the client’s taste and sensibilities: colors, content, voice, volume, look and feel.
  • Review all creative against the (ideally preexisting) brand standards manual.
  • Define the tools, widgets, modules and social touch points, and determine the "why" and benefit of each.
  • Conduct stakeholder interviews or questionnaires to ensure you don't create work they will hate.
  • For a website, tablet or mobile project: Map out and get approval on the informational architecture, a wireframe scenario, and ideally a rough user-experience diagram.
  • For an integrated digital campaign: Map out all the items within the campaign, define an objective for each element, and create a rollout plan.
  • Practice your pitch. Look for potholes that could cause the client to "go south,” and figure out how you will stay compelling and keep them on track.

During the Pitch:

Open with a story about the brand, what it means to you and how you developed the creative to this point. If you can't do this then you have no business pitching – period. Within the story, remind the client of the objectives you will accomplish. Show your agency’s process chart, and tell the audience where you are on the chart.

Use a story during the reveal, as well. The reason “striptease” acts got that label is because there is something very seductive about the tease. Build up the anticipation and then pay it off. It’s even better if you’re in good enough shape to include a little pole work.

Another way to sway the client is by creating the right mood with a thematic title:

Rather than saying “Option 1” and “Option 2.” Go with something like "Option 1: The Sunny Day" and "Option 2: The Puppy Room." You don’t have to make it so sweet that your client leaves the meeting with diabetes. But think of it like music: Major keys make you happy and minor keys fill you with dread. With that said, if you show a storyboard for a PSA on meth addiction, setting a horrific tone might be just the ticket.

Never show all your options at the same time. If you're pitching a website, show the home page, then later a sub page, and then a detail page. Not only does this gives you more to talk about, but it looks like you did a shit-ton of work. No one needs to know you repurposed the last real estate WordPress template and slapped on a new logo. Not that I would suggest that.

I would show no more than three design options, though two is even better in order to keep the conversation focused and constructive. If you do show three, then two of the designs should be “safe.” The third should be the wildcard, and something to showcase your creative spirit.

Inevitably someone will ask the dreaded question: "Which design do you recommend?"

This is where you separate the master from the students. It is best to offer a hybrid answer by explaining the benefits of each design. Tell them you like both, but if you were forced to choose, you would select X. Just make a decision prior to the pitch so you don’t waffle. Then IMMEDIATELY remind the client how strong both designs are, and that it would be your pleasure to transport elements from one design to the other.

If the shit hits the fan and the client HATES one or (gasp) both designs, you have to confidently explain the research, content and rationale that lead you to this point. Slowly review all the materials and exploration. Systematically explain why each design or campaign has merit, and why it will successfully achieve the client’s goals. Then as the kicker, remind them this is a brave new world of interactive and social media. Make sure they understand that after launching with this initial design, you can optimize it over the life of the campaign based on accruing an adequate amount of user data to support the design revisions. 

If they still hate the work, it might be helpful to imagine them drowning in a bottomless pool of their own emotional venom. Keep that part to yourself, then sit down, review all the material and pull as much content as possible to construct one additional design.

The Post Pitch:

Let me remove all doubt: YOU DON'T GET A SECOND CHANCE! If you bombed – fine. Just fix it. Don't go back with 10 versions of a new interpretation. Not only will this make you look foolish, but it will make them think you could have shown more work the first time.

Precede the secondary approval round with a thorough e-mail outlining everything you heard at the initial pitch. This shows you were listening intently and that you are following their directive to the letter. 

Go into social mode about how great you feel about the revisions. 

Pitch the revisions with enthusiasm, and impress upon them the deadlines you wish to meet to ensure you have adequate development time to test and launch by your due date. All clients understand deadlines, and often will approve something because they have a boss waiting to see the material. 

Don’t book your “reward” trip to Maui quite yet. But at this point it’s probably safe to start looking at resorts and creating your short list.

What 'rules of the road' would you like to add to this list? Any kernel to help other creatives is worth the time! Thanks, and here's to your next successful creative pitch!

Posted on February 17, 2012 and filed under Business, New Business Development, Storytelling.