6 Smart Agency Rules for Winning Presentations

One of the best takeaways from the Ad-Tech conference a few weeks ago for me was a point Guy Kawasaki made in his very entertaining keynote presentation about his 10/20/30 rule for marketing revolutionaries on using powerpoint.

  • 10 slides
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 point size minimum

Very simple stuff (though surprisingly tough to stick to) – but given the time crunch in developing presentations most of us are under – it’s hard to remember the basics about using this notorious format of powerpoint.  These days, legends are told of those individuals or agencies who walked into a pitch without powerpoint.  Can you imagine?  They actually went in to speak with a client and knew what they were talking about so well they didn’t need the standard lecturn of ill-preparedness … the powerpoint presentation.  I had an interesting conversation the other day with a colleague about the inverse relationship between flashy presentations, and our level of comfort with a client’s business.  I have pitches I’ve worked on over the last 10 years where we’ve basically designed an entire site, done custom bio headshots, rewritten our standard corporate descriptions and overdelivered by far on what the client asked us to pitch.  These are usually the pitches we lose. 

And when we do lose, I always wonder if we lost to another agency that had more flash than us, or to one that knew the client well enough to walk in with no powerpoint – and say or show everything they needed to.  But that would mean they were smarter – so usually we just agree that they must have been cheaper.  But when we know the client and are comfortable with the business, we can be smarter … and we usually win.  But aside from having a personal relationship with the client, which is not always possible – I believe there are six key factors that have been common themes on the many winning pitches I’ve been involved with:

1) Give ’em what they need to resell it – Chances are, unless you are lucky enough to pitch to the CEO of an organization, your presentation will be taken, chopped up, rehashed and represented internally to someone higher up in order to get the budget to do whatever you pitched to do.  The funny part is, this can often happen even when there has already been a budget allocated.  In other words, expect that someone other than you will have to take your presentation and paraphrase it.  And that’s what the CEO (or decision maker) will use to make his/her decision.  Not sending a client an electronic version of your presentation, regardless of how you delivered it, is one of the dumbest things you can do.  Let them cut and paste, let them find and translate your key ideas easily and you will guarantee that your key points make it past the cutting room floor and into the hands of the real decision makers.

2) Make your clients look smart for their bosses – Get over the fact that sometimes your brilliant strategy which evolved over many long hours will sometimes be taken and presented by your client as their own.  That’s a good thing.  You make them look smart and they remember you for it.  Think they will go with anyone else when it comes time to award a piece of business?  Not likely.  Of course, beware of client "phisers" who use agencies for ideas, and then execute them internally.  We don’t like them.

3) Convince them they have the finest team ever assembled – At the end of the day, personal relationships matter more than arguments or budgets.  From my experiences selling services at a technology-based consulting firm … I understand the power of the flexible expert.  Expertise is good – someone who cannot tolerate being questioned or client’s that have an opinion is bad.  Taking a page from the Ogilvy Winning Way, make sure that each team member’s introduction results in a reaction from the client – "Wow, I’m glad he/she is here!"  And then illustrate how each member of the team will collaborate with the client, while also having a strong opinion.  Remember, no one hires a team of suck-ups (though people often hire individual suck-ups … how ironic).

4) Answer their questions, proactively – Alright, this is probably the most obvious.  But the typical type of presentation goes through all the ideas and strategy and asks for questions at the end.  Better presentations engage in dialogue and ask for questions throughout.  The best presentations anticipate the questions and answer them right when a client thinks about them, but does not yet voice them.  It may sound like mind reading – but all it takes is a concentrated effort to brainstorm possible questions the client may have the same way we brainstorm creative ideas.  It is then an easy leap to figure out when this question might occur to a client during a presentation. 

5) Sketch the picture, then paint it – Too often, our impulse is to describe the idea of the painting and then show it – a metaphorical swipe of the sheet that covers our idea and a "voila!" upon unveiling it.  This doesn’t work because it presents a shock.  While this may work for art (or a certain type of pitch) … where shock is what you want, in most pitch situations, shock is bad.  The client needs to be able to visualize how their world could be different if only the right idea or strategy came along.  What if every first time dad told other dads about our widget?  Here’s the strategy to make that happen …

6) Stories written by multiple people usually suck – Everyone has their own expertise, and in a big agency there is a huge temptation to chop up a presentation and present each person with their assignment.  Problem is, every presentation must have a story – and if you hand out chapters without knowing the story, you’ll end up with something that looks like 10 pockets of hard work slapped together an hour before the presentation.  And it’s like falling asleep in a meeting, even if you think no one noticed … they did.

Hopefully these are of use on your next pitch.  Here’s to hoping we are not competing for the same work.

UPDATE 1/5/06: Guy now has a blog and just recently posted about his 10/20/30 rule here.

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