I’m not a fan of pitch templates. There is no surer way to deaden the vitality and spark of a creative idea than to compress it awkwardly into a pre-formatted PowerPoint or Keynote document.
The best pitches are those that are as creative as the ideas they’re selling.
Often a truly memorable pitch will derive its form from the content being presented. I remember once pitching a brand campaign to a network of local radio stations. We presented the concept by having a series of albums mounted on the walls of the agency. The title of each album encapsulated a different aspect of our idea. We took the client through our proposal, album by album. As they left, instead of a deck we gave them a playlist. This anecdote would be better if I could now tell you we won the pitch. We didn’t. The client loved the pitch, but they thought the work itself was too bold. Plus ça change …
If you want to create a compelling – and hopefully, winning – pitch, no matter what format you ultimately choose to showcase your idea, there are four essential things you need to know. These four essential vertebrae can then become the backbone of your presentation. You can dress them up any way you wish, but without them you’ll lose the rigidity you need to make a convincing creative argument.
They are the Challenge, the Insight, the Idea and the Execution.
The Challenge is the business or strategic or brand problem you are being invited to solve, summed up in a single sentence. Getting the brief down to a single sentence should, anyway, have been one of your first tasks on receiving the original brief. It’s a great way to cut the wheat from the chaff and determine what is really important. And once you have an encapsulation of the brief, when you pitch you can move swiftly through it to your proposal, which, after all, is what the client is interested in. There’s no surer way to lose them early on than recapitulating the brief in tedious detail.
The Insight is the key to unlocking the brief. It’s the way into the creative, the foundation of your concept, the reason your idea makes sense. It’s the most valuable part of your thinking and the element most often overlooked by a naïve pitching team. Why will your idea resonate with a real world audience?
The Idea is … your idea, but described in the single most elegant and evocative and compelling sentence you can think of. One sentence. No more. Ideally you want anyone who was in your pitch to be able to describe your idea to a colleague who wasn’t there. To make sure that happens you need to help them with a crisp summation.
The Execution is where you have some fun. Go to town on enabling the client to envisage your idea with all the colour and passion and verve that you do — mood-boards, music references, storyboards and the rest.
Take the UK’s favourite commercial of all time – the Guinness surfer ad directed by Jonathan Glazer.
Though sadly I didn’t work on the project, I know from those who did that you can break down how the idea was presented into our four vertebrae …
The Challenge was that Guinness sales were suffering, in part because of ‘the long pour’, the way you have to leave a half poured pint to settle for a couple of minutes. Not a great attribute at a busy bar. Previously the brand had got round this by enthusing about Irishness or creaminess or being black and white.
The Insight from the agency who won the pitch was simple – we’re going to make the problem the solution. Rather than obfuscate the long pour by talking about other attributes, we are going to embrace it and turn a perceived negative into a positive. In an age of disposability and hollow instantaneous gratification, where people are hungry for substance, we are going to stand for things that take time.
The Idea is simple – good things come to those who wait.
The Execution is a short film about a deeply rewarding pursuit which demands patience: surfing. In our film, scripted with a literary voice-over, underscored by a thumping bass beat and enhanced with cutting edge CGI we tell the story of one extraordinary surfer. Oh, and it’s shot in black and white (obvs).
Challenge, Insight, Idea and Execution.
Each of these four steps can be simply encapsulated. There are no logic jumps or diversions. The argument is compelling and radiates an irresistible inevitability. It flows, like a well poured pint.
Or a winning pitch.