Performing is investing is selling

Recently, Jim was writing about audiobooks, and it got me thinking.

A few years ago, I listened to Tom Wolfe’s book, A Man in Full on tape. (Yes, cassette tape.) It was read by David Ogden Stiers. Great actor. Great book. But having him read it to me was a little dull. As Jim wrote, it kind of felt like cheating to be listening instead of reading.

Last week, I finished listening to another audiobook. This one was The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. A cast of actors performed for about 10 different characters. The production was complete with Foley effects from background music on the radio to doors slamming. When someone was on the phone, they sounded fuzzy. When they were in the other room, they sounded distant. When they interrupted each other, you actually heard. It less of an audiobook and more of a radio play. They weren’t the best troupe of actors, but the whole experience was far superior to famous Steirs reading famous Wolfe.

The Tom Wolfe book is like the creative team that says, “This idea is so good, it speaks for itself. Feast your eyes on this brilliance.” No one’s questioning the talent or the substance. But outside of the creative team, no one’s really invested in it either.

The Goldratt production was the creative team who took a great idea, sold it, and got it produced.

(In Tom Wolfe’s defense, the jacket design for A Man in Full – and just about anything else – beats the cover of the Goldratt book.)

Internal presentations

When agencies present work to clients, they go to the trouble of setting up the presentation first. Usually, they read the brief to remind everyone what the purpose of the assignment was. They might explain who they’re talking to, what media they’re using, and may even reveal the tag line or theme before showing the work.

But when creatives present work to their creative directors, they usually just push a stack of sharpied comps across the desk. And I think more work dies unnecessarily because of this.

I’m not suggesting creative directors need a big, client-sized presentation. But a little context can go a long way. You may say, But my CD is a genius. He’s been doing this for 15 years. He knows what my stick figures represent. I’m not going to patronize him by re-briefing him.

But consider that most creative directors have more responsibilities than a junior team does. Just because you’ve been developing your ideas day and night for the past two weeks doesn’t mean your CD has been equally involved. There are client calls, new business developments that aren’t announced, senior staff meetings, departmental budgets to consider, review and revise. There are a million other agency-related distractions CDs have to deal with.

So it may help, at least on the initial internal presentation to present to your CD as if he were one of them instead of one of you. I’m not talking about polishing your comps – that’s a waste of time. I’m talking about briefly reviewing the brief: Who are you talking to, and what are you trying to tell them and what the client’s expectations are. Ninety seconds upfront and you’re done.

Do this with your account team and planners as well and you’ll see less and less work die internally. Not because you’ve managed to talk them into your work. But because you’ll be able to pre-edit ideas that aren’t on brief anyway.

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

When I played basketball with my dad when I was young, he liked to post up and, when he got the ball, intentionally step on my foot before making his move. I called it dirty. He called it experience.

There are a million tiny things you can do to help sell your work. Here’s perhaps the smallest.

Before you present a campaign idea, do a little setup. Sometimes I put these paragraphs on a board, or hand them out so people can read along. Title or tagline at the top, then a few sentences that walk from the strategy to the execution (in as direct a route as possible–weed out all the tangential stuff). Maybe include a nice mood photo. This is pretty much standard. I have even played music while I read the setup.

So here’s the little trick. End the paragraph with your tagline. It’s stupid, I know, but think about when you’re reading a book, and somewhere in the prose of the book, you come across the title. It jumps out at you, and you start to think there’s something meaningful in that sentence. Like a theme. Like something deep. Like an answer, maybe. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Strategy as a Starting Point

The summer between my first and second years of portfolio school, I interned at GSD&M. (I don’t think GSD&M has hosted interns from my school since. Make of that what you will.)

We knew the agency was involved in a high-profile pitch, so we asked if we could help out. We were given the same brief as the other four or five teams, and went to work.

At the initial internal presentation, we went first. (Whether we were over eager or being picked on, I don’t recall.) About halfway through our stack of paper the group creative director asked us to stop. He’d seen enough. We were a little off strategy.

That was more than a little crushing. But the real insult was when he went next and presented an ad that was simply the strategy statement as a headline with a relevant photo. Not everyone oohed and aahed. But a few did.

We brought in a ream of envelope-pushing ideas, and you just art direct the brief?! Geez, I’ll be a GCD if that’s all you have to do.

I learned two things from this experience:

  1. Anything art directed is going to have more impact than something drawn with a Sharpie. In group presentations, quality is going to beat quantity. (That said, don’t waste your time laying out concepts when you should be thinking.)
  2. The strategy as a headline is actually a great place to start. And in retrospect, I think that was what the GCD was trying to do. It keeps you from veering off course. And when you’re able to root the execution in strategic thinking, it becomes substantially more sellable internally, to the client, and to the public. (That said, don’t use the strategy statement as a headline as anything but a jumping off point.)

World’s Best Presentations has announced the winners of their “World’s Best Presentation” contest. You can view the winner and the runners up below.

The first and third presentations are potentially complicated messages that could have harbored a trove of tangents. Instead, they’re clear, simple, and very engaging.
Next time you’re mocking up your ads, ask yourself if they do as good a job as these presentations do at communicating. Don’t confuse that with minimalism. Done correctly, long copy can be crystal clear and very engaging. But if your ad isn’t as lucid and as smart as these presentations, try peeling back a few more layers.