Selling Ideas

How to get people to pay attention and win that big pitch…

Selling ideas is as much about the performance as it is the topic…

And there I was, standing in a huge ballroom, in my biggest pitch of the year, in front of the global management team of one of the world’s largest fast food chains, singing their brand new jingle!!!!

Yes, this really happened. Quite a few years ago I was seconded to work on a pitch with a creative partner agency to try and win the global Wendy’s advertising and media business. We were clearly the underdogs, and the agency was up against serious competition. We worked hard on the consumer insights, spent hours eating Baconators, talked to lots of teens and truckers, and ALMOST cracked the creative brief.

A Baconator…

But there was something not quite selling the BIG IDEA that we had. So, very late one Friday night in New York City when the rest of the advertising world was out partying hard (or fighting for a table at a ‘must-be-seen-at’ restaurant), a creative decision was made that the campaign needed a jingle.


Anyone over 35 will remember the jingle. That go-to advertising gimmick to make the ad memorable and be that audio calling card (yes, we used to call it that), was massively popular until the early 90s when background music and ‘pop songs’ as ad accompaniment became the ‘in thing’.

Anyway, it was decided that for this throw-back brand a jingle was in order, and for some reason the most relevant people (the strategist and creative) would be the perfect candidates to sing it live and get that ‘Pitch Theatre’ that every new business lead dreams of delivering.

I’d like to claim that it was my singing voice that won me the role (as demonstrated in my role of Moses in the long-lost and never to be revived teen musical ‘Go! Mo! Go!’), but sadly it was more a case of ‘Mark will build up the strategy, Linda will introduce the creative idea and because they will both be standing in the middle of the ballroom with the huge U-shaped table surrounded by VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE, it’s best if they just both stay there and sing the song live…’.

Yes this really happened. The room was filled with my heavenly harmonies and Linda playing her organ and taking lead. It’s a great shame for the entire world and the history of advertising that it wasn’t videotaped…


If Archimedes had not yelled ‘Eureka!’ and gotten the attention of his neighbours, then maybe no one would have take notice about his water displacement theory

The reason for relaying this shaggy dog tale is to demonstrate that IDEAS need to be SOLD. If Archimedes had not yelled ‘Eureka!’ and gotten the attention of his neighbours, then maybe no one would have take notice about his water displacement theory. If Steve Jobs hadn’t staged his big launch events — streamed live with an audience of technology experts, programmers and media big wigs — would the Apple brand be worth as much?

I have spent a long time in advertising and media agencies and the vast majority of ideas are NOT sold well. Most often, you run out of time to deliver a great sales pitch, you don’t have the design capabilities to package something well, you haven’t rehearsed enough to deliver the ‘winning presentation’ or sometimes, you just want to get this one out of the way and move to the next challenge. It’s a losing battle unless you change your habits.

Selling ideas that get bought requires time, planning, packaging and rehearsal. There’s a reason why the biggest software companies in the world employ thousands of sales staff pre-packaging and creating pitches to deliver prospects every day, even though they don’t understand one iota about the programming or coding. They know they have products that are practical and hard to differentiate, but a great sales person can turn those 1s and 0s into $$$$s. They do the job that will help justify their differentiation to the client, and make that once-a-year million-dollar sale. Salesmanship pays dividends.

We media agency folk often believe we are so stretched that generally we spend more time crafting ideas and not working out how to sell them. I have personally sat in many last minute brainstorms desperate for that final ‘WINNING IDEA’ for the pitch, without planning for the time to get it art directed and rehearsed — only to walk into the pitch and skip over MOST IMPORTANT SLIDE OF THE DECK in 10 seconds because you are RUNNING OUT OF TIME BEFORE THEY CUT YOU OFF FOR QUESTIONS. Sad but true….

Clients BUY work. They don’t just approve it. A media plan is no different to a creative advertising idea or a piece of software — people respond to a sales pitch far more than a straight explanation of a concept.

So how does this all help you sell ideas? I’ll give you Mark’s Top Idea Selling Tips (for FREE!!!!)

Create the best looking package.

1. Packaging

They say packaging is 80% of the job. An ugly PowerPoint slide will NEVER win against a glossy, meticulously designed brochure containing the same content.

Human beings are distracted by shiny things, and the prettier it is; the more we are attracted to it.

Think about and PLAN FOR how you can get your idea designed to be visually appealing.

Top tip: Did you know you can learn Photoshop for free online and that the software can be purchased for a minimal monthly subscription? If you have a creative leaning, then I’d recommend this as one sure-fire way to make your ideas look much better than using old-fashioned clip art!

How to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

2. Practice

If your idea takes 5 minutes to present, then it’s worth spending one hour (12 times rehearsal) practicing your pitch. It’s not really a big time commitment at all — and the general consensus is that after 5 times of rehearsals your performance will be 50%+ improved.

A mirror and a smartphone video recorder are great, easy available and FREE tools to help you perfect your pitch and rehearse alone or with others.

Top tip: Persuade your boss to find an improv class in town and get the whole team learning how to act on their feet — it’s a valuable tool for pitching ideas!

Exactly what it says on the tin.

3. Simplicity

Whilst most of our clients have degrees or even masters of business, not everyone is 100% engaged and equipped with the focus and energy all the time to understand your convoluted thinking.

Get simple. Think of how you could sell your idea to a 7 year old. Practice on your pet rabbit. Pitch your idea in 10 seconds to a colleague in an elevator. No idea should be so complex that it takes 10 minutes to explain. I have NEVER seen a client buy work that wasn’t ‘explainable’ in 2–3 minutes, even if it took them a while to rationalise it.

Pare down your pitch to the basic elements — what we will do, how is this different, why would this resonate for consumers, the relevancy for and impact on the brand — and you are one step closer to having a comprehensible sales pitch.

Top tip: Write the 30-second elevator pitch first. That will ensure you are able to explain the idea to the person with even the shortest of attention spans.

An actor performs. The audience, informed.

4. Theatre

‘Pitch theatre’ works. Print things out. Create a video. Give out physical demos. Dress up as a Von Trapp Child (Another time for that story).

‘Apparently’* this makes clients take notice and when they take notice they are more likely to comprehend what you are telling them. Ideas need to be sold but only if people are paying attention. Singing a song like the burger jingle is one way to GET THEIR ATTENTION.

You don’t have to be the next Diane Warren, but you need to DO SOMETHING that makes the client realise THIS IS THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO REMEMBER.

*sarcasm. Theatre DOES get people’s attention. No ambiguity.

None of this is easy. It’s hard to be creative, even for the most creative people. It takes time and energy, both of which are often lacking in our day-to-day lives. but ultimately this is the work that we all love to do, and make this business so exciting. And so if you follow these tips, then a bit of time, and dedication, and most of all PASSION, will help you sell your best ideas in the best way possible, and who knows, maybe one day win a CANNES LION.

Or, win the WENDY’S GLOBAL ACCOUNT that we did 2 weeks after we sang in that ballroom. Possibly my proudest media moment….

“You know when it’s real!!!”

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