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The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business

JON STEEL Jon Steel Steel was a partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. Now he’s a new business and training consultant for WPP. One of the preeminent planners from Britain, he’s best know for work that led to the got milk? campaign. He also wrote the book, Truth, Lies, and Advertising. Introduction Steel opens the book with a story about his visit to Apple. Invited to pitch the account, Steel, Goodby and Silverstein met with two senior members of Apple’s marketing department who took two hours of their time, first trying to figure out how to work the projector and then going over slide after slide after slide of charts, graphs, and bulletpoints. When Steve Jobs finally joined the meeting, he introduced himself, turned off the projector, and using a dry-erase board explained, “This company is in deep shit. But I believe that if we do some simple things very well, we can save it, and we can grow it.” In five minutes, he had done what the two marketers hadn’t even approached doing: He’d given a focused, impassioned, inspiring presentation. Steel states that this book is about the art of influencing people by storytelling. And PowerPoint isn’t the way to tell stories. Chapter 1: Presentation Crimes This chapter explores why many presentations fail. Presentation crimes include: 1. Striving to find the perfect answer. If you and your friend are being chased by a bear, you don’t have to outrun the bear. Just your friend. Similarly, in a pitch, you don’t have to be right. You just have to be more right than any of your competitors.…It’s about winning, not accuracy. 2. Striving to make the perfect presentation. It’s about content – having a clear and simple point. 3. Failing to find out what the audience really wants, or needs, to hear. 4. Lecturing, as opposed to communicating. You should aim to make your audience willing accomplices in your presentation. 5. Giving a presentation that lacks a clear flow. A good presentation, like a good movie, will have a clear start, middle, and end. 6. Believing success is directly proportional to detail.


Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business Chapter 2: Imperfect Pitch In this chapter, Steele uses the O.J. Simpson trial to show the presentation crimes committed by Marcia Clark and the things Johnnie Cochran’s team did right. Clark’s mistakes: She failed to adapt to the situation. She purposely strove to have African American females on the jury (8 of 12) because in her previous cases, they had tended to be sympathetic to domestic violence prosecutors. But preferring to rely on convention instead of assess the current situation, this worked to the prosecution’s disadvantage. She didn’t understand the end goal. She needed to persuade them to return a guilty verdict. Instead, she just presented facts, expecting them to speak for themselves. She didn’t respect the audience. She was habitually late for court. She bored the audience. She brought in expert after expert to lecture the jury for days on DNA. All it did was numb the jury. The defense, on the other hand didn’t set out to prove Simpson was innocent. Only to make it too uncomfortable for the jurors to return a guilty verdict. It’s not just about being right. It’s not only about being the best. It’s about winning. Marcia Clark and her team made a presentation. Johnnie Cochran told a story. Chapter 3: Bill Clinton, Johnnie Cochran, and a London Hooker Four Pillars of a Great Presentation: Involving the audience The audience is never listening to what you are saying. They are listenging for what it means for them. Finish a sentence with a question mark rather than a period. A question mark invites participation, whereas a period ends a thought. Whenever I make a presentation, I invariably use personal stories. Simplicity Clinton’s ’92 campaign was “It’s the economy, Stupid!” not “It’s about the economy, foreign policy, healthcare, crime, welfare reform and immigration, Stupid!” Surprise London phone booths are saturated with “tart cards” – business cards of hookers. While all show retouched photos with redundant bullet points that give hair color and height, Steele points to one which simply said “genuine picture.” This completely diffused the competition. An even more effective tart card featured no picture, but broke the clutter with the line, “I love my job.” Belief The most persuasive presentations are built on belief. The secret of eloquence lies in believing passionately in what you’re talking about.


Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business Chapter 4: Making Connections This chapter addresses the process of preparing for a presentation. The 5/15/80 Rule: We enter any given assignment knowing 5% of the relevant information. The next 15% is information we don’t know. And the remaining 80% is the relevant information that we don’t even know we don’t know. Step One: Grazing. Gathering raw materials. It’s a “data dump.” Steel begins working on presentations with a Sharpie and a stack of Stickie notes. On every piece he writes a piece of information that might be relevant. He gradually organizes them. Step Two: Look for Meaning Step Three: Drop It Step Four: Adapt and Distill Step Five: Writing the Presentation Chapter 5: Trevor’s Sledgehammer This chapter addresses the need to disconnect in order to think. We have to create time and space for ourselves to become better thinkers, presenters and listeners. An HP study suggests that the frequent use of text messages and e-mails has a negative effect on the brain that is equivalent to smoking two joints or having a sleepless night. Other studies suggest such use may temporarily knock about 10 points off a person’s IQ. Chapter 6: We Will Fight Them in the Boardroom In this chapter Winston Churchill’s famous “We Will Fight Them On the Beaches” speech is reduced to a PowerPoint presentation to demonstrate how poor presenting can destroy an effective message.

Technology cannot overwhelm the message. The best way to improve any presentation is by improving its content. Chapter 7: Benign Dictatorship This chapter is about the art of leading a team presentation. In a presentation, clients can sense when an agency is a team and not just a bunch of individuals.


Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business Questions to ask before pitching a new business include: Why is this client here? How strong is their brand? Is the client the right fit for this agency? Will we be able to produce our best work together? Who does this client really want to hire? Rehearsal is essential. Practice doesn’t kill spontaneity. It frees a presenter to be more spontaneous. If Michael Jordan shoots free throws for three hours a day and cellist Yo-Yo Ma practices for eight, and soccer star David Beckham takes free kicks on his own long after his teammates have left the training ground, then it’s not inconceivable to think that we should practice our presentations. Assuming a presentation were on a Wednesday, Steel says he would follow this schedule: The Previous Friday: First Walk-Through No details. Each presenter gains an idea of how his or her part fits with the others. Monday Morning: Walk-Through with Full Scripts and Visual Aids Polished from Friday’s walk-through. Scripts are in full and not ad-libbed. Tuesday Afternoon: Dress Rehearsal Should be in the room where the pitch will take place. If that’s not possible, it is essential that someone has seen the room, measured and photographed it, and is thus able to replicate that space for rehearsal. When given the choice between one more run through of the presentation or everone going to bed, I have almost always chosen a good night’s sleep. Wednesday Morning: Final Dress Rehearsal Rehearsal is about practice, sure. But most of all it is about team spirit and confidence. Everyone will see the presentation improving every time they go through it. They will feel themselves improving. But most important of all, once they go away and run through their material alone for the umpteetnth time, they will not be doing it for themselves. They will be doing it for each other. Chapter 8: The Pitch and Beyond This chapter is about treating the presentation not as the end but the beginning. When clients enter their own conference room, it has to feel different. When they enter the agency’s offices, they must feel the room is welcoming them, that it’s not that way for everyone. Steel often pins up all the visual aids before the presentation to show a great volume of work and effort. It doesn’t matter whether the clients can see them, because until I deliver my presentation, they will be visually interesting but no more. When a presentation is given “in the round” it encourages more audience participation and discussion. It is often the question and discussion time that makes the difference between good and great. It gives the agency the first clear signs of how the communication is being processed, not just how it has been received. On leave-behinds: Verbatim decks of the presentation may serve as a reminder of the content of the presentation, but not of its spirit. It adds nothing to what has already been said. For a leave-behind for a Kodak pitch, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners gave the client photoalbums which contained a picture from each agency employee they considered their best.


Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business Nothing is as demoralizing to a team as to be given control over an assignment, told “It’s your pitch,” and then have the idea radically changed by their managers and creative directors who have not been involved in the process. A new business team’s chances of success rest in large part on the quality of the content they are presenting, but equally…on their confidence, on their spirit, and on their belief in what they are presenting. Chapter 9: The Perfect Pitch This chapter contains the pitch transcript London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics – worth about $8 billion. London was a complete underdog to Paris, and they did everything right: They researched and understood their audience (the International Olympic Committee), and based their presentation on what they knew. They had a simple theme: The London Olympics meant a lasting sports legacy for the world’s youth. They did research: They understood what the judging criteria might be, what the athletes expected, and what London’s weaknesses were so they could be diffused. They surprised their audience: Tony Blair addressed the IOC in fluent French, and they featured a personal endorsement from Nelson Mandela. They firmly believed in their message, and worked together as a team to rehearse, revise and present it. Paris was overwhelmingly favored to win the bid (and even brought bottles of champagne to the bid announcement). But in the end, Paris didn’t talk about the Olympic Movement. Paris simply talked about Paris.


Executive Summary: Perfect Pitch  
Executive Summary: Perfect Pitch  

A summary of Jon Steel's book