At last, I’ve seen the view from the other side of the table

Absolutely brilliant day yesterday. I’ve been working with a new start-up business, and recently I’ve had to help organise a pitch for a brand development agency for them. Yesterday was the big day – so, for the first time in my career, I had the opportunity to enjoy the pitch experience from the client’s side of the table. And not once, not twice, but three times in a day.

What did I learn? Quite a lot, some of which I’d better not mention because the clients won’t be announcing the outcome till next week (and indeed a final decision hasn’t been made yet, although I’m pretty sure I know which way the wind is blowing).

Anyway, here are a few general and slightly vaguely-expressed points.

1. Our appetite for irrelevance is very small. We want as much as possible to be – or to seem to be – relevant to us. The most brilliant case study in the world isn’t worth bothering with unless it is obviously relevant. Non-specific creds should go in the document.

2. Our appetite for dull presentations is very small. This is a similar point to the last one, but not the same. Even if what’s being said is actually about us, if it’s dull and obvious then we start shifting about in our chairs and pretty quickly wondering if we could get away with blackberrying under the table.

3. We really respond to people who are obviously up for it. There are different ways of being obviously up for it, and fake displays of gushing enthusiasm aren’t among them. But real enthusiasm, conviction and energy count for a lot.

4. Probably the biggest point: actually, there isn’t really a dichotomy between buying the people, and buying the work. This was a new and important lesson for me, and I think it might deserve a bit of explanation.

When I lost pitches in my agency days, I guess that probably the commonest reason given was that the clients “were just blown away by an idea from one of the others.” I was always puzzled by this. You’re entering into a working relationship with a bunch of people who, hopefully, will be critically important to your business for the next few years, and you’re making the decision on the basis that they’ve come up with a clever headline for a trade press ad? A cliche involving the words “horse” and “cart” would come immediately to mind (along with an expression involving the words “bunch” and “arseholes”).

But the new point that I appreciate after yesterday is this: that actually, you will almost certainly feel warmest towards the people (or person) who show you that idea that blows you away. Since everything they say turns out to be leading towards something that you love, you also decide that you love everything they say. When the big idea is revealed, you feel a surge of goodwill and enthusiasm not just for the idea, but also for the fine, perceptive and intelligent people whose thinking led them to it. We saw one idea that we really liked yesterday, and – not by coincidence in my view – immediately decided that we loved the person who had come up with it. If for whatever reason, post-appointment, that idea fell over, we’d feel massively confident that that person could come up with something else as good or better. Another team showed us ideas we didn’t like: because we didn’t like the ideas, we didn’t think much of the people and thought they’d struggle to come up with anything much else.

I guess this connection doesn’t invariably exist. Sometimes, someone you’ve written off as a complete pillock comes up with something you love, and sometimes someone you think the world of has a bad day. On these occasions, you may decide that there are more important considerations in your decision-making than the idea that blew you away. But I suspect that, say, eight times out of ten, clients decide that the agency people who came up with their favourite idea are in fact also their favourite agency people – and of course then the decision really is pretty easy.

Anyway, those are the four lessons I wanted to share with you today. Oh yes, and one small final point: when the senior client’s school age daughter comes along to the pitches on work experience, be very nice to her and give her a book. All the other agencies will – you’ll look like cheapskates if you don’t.

2 thoughts on “At last, I’ve seen the view from the other side of the table

  1. David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man” is still an excellent aperitif to the intoxicating world of motivational leverage that is advertising. He lived in Lewis Carroll’s sisters’ house in Guildford where Carroll sent a lot of time and wrote a lot of his crazy stuff. That alone is a reason to read it.

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