It's not always easy to discern what makes the best creative. Which qualities are the most important? One thing is for sure: The best presentation usually wins. But what makes a winning presentation? Consider the six-easel approach, for example. It's low tech but high touch and shows off an agency's talent. It's a strategy focused on creative approach, rather than actual materials. Often format and style win over content due to the all-important emotional factor. Your presentation should be like that runaway Hollywood blockbuster film: filled with suspense, highs, lows, and a thrilling climax. You want to elicit an emotional response.
Hollywood has a bad habit of making movies filled with special effects but lacking a compelling story. We all know the type of action films with huge explosions, sounds, and fury, but really nothing to say. Five minutes after leaving the theater, the story has been forgotten. Let it be a lesson to never allow technology to overwhelm your pitch.
Every agency review process gets confusing and crowded in the minds of the prospects. Each agency puts on a show, selling itself as the best, the smartest, and the most creative, with all the right solutions. After a short time they all start to run together. Prospects have a hard time remembering one agency from another. Nothing can replace that emotional connection made between real people. Make sure your agency stands out from the crowd by connecting with prospects on an emotional level. Here are 10 rules for making a strong connection in a pitch.
Set the stage
Call and introduce yourself to the prospect. Demonstrate your excitement and enthusiasm for this opportunity. In a perfect world, you will already have established some level of relationship with the prospect. If not, set up a meeting. If procurement won't let you, work your connections and discover as much as you can. Collect any fact, insight, or opinion that can help set you apart on the big day. Build a map of how you think the decision will be made.
Bring the best cast
You are not pitching to a company but to people. Work hard to profile the decision makers. Make sure the casting of your team matches up with the prospect's expectations in terms of position, experience, age, gender, and personality. Find opportunities to enhance the relationship, by connecting before, during, and after the presentation. Work your network.
No one-man shows
You want the audience to connect to your agency, not just you. The more a leader speaks, the weaker that leader becomes. The leader should only open and close, in effect giving power to the rest of the team. This will showcase the team's abilities and enhance its power in the mind of the prospect. You want the prospects to connect emotionally with your staff and the agency. If you don't feel your team is capable, train them!
Never forget the magic of Hollywood. Great films are filled with suspense, emotional highs, lows, and a thrilling climax. It's vital to draw the prospects into your presentation and connect with them. Leave the facts and figures in the leave-behind. Each team member should have a clear role. Who will be the hero in the eyes of the prospect? The chorus to support and move the story forward? Who is the evil witch you must overcome? The hero's plucky sidekick? The catalyst? In the end you want the prospects to laugh out loud, get teary-eyed, and above all, stay engaged.
Few special effects
All agencies want to look high-tech, professional, and smooth, so they work hard to build beautiful slides and videos -- big special effects. These can help but should not be the focus of your presentation. Your people and the story must be the focus. It's impossible for your people to connect emotionally if everyone in the room is looking at a flickering light. Go low tech. Use props, boards, handouts, or actors if you must. We suggest you start with a short slideshow to introduce the firm, with three to five minutes on you and your case histories. Then bring the lights up and move into the "relationship/story" phase. This shift alone can be a powerful differentiator to separate you from all the other agencies in the hunt.
Every agency hates this. We hear it all the time. The old "I do much better when I'm fresh, spontaneous" excuse. Bull. Ask movie stars if they just "act" when the film is rolling with no preparation. They don't. They script it out and work hard to get into the role. Only after hours of working with the script do they feel free enough to even start rehearsing. Your presentation is a blockbuster and everyone must be on the same page. The difference is startling when viewed from the prospect's seat. Every agency hates this until they do it once. Then they never go back. It's that powerful.
A winning presentation is worth a full day's practice. Your team members should be fully up to speed with their role, scripts, props, and only then can you really start to rehearse. We suggest going offsite (a hotel close to the prospect is preferred) where you can set up a fake presentation room. Set it up exactly like the room you will be presenting in. (Call and ask if you're not sure what the room is like, and send someone over to measure it if you must.) Go through the whole presentation from moving into the room, to setting up, to the close and how you will exit. Practice each section. Do breakouts if you must. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Win in the Q&A
Most agencies think of the Q&A as secondary and leave it until the last minute. They feel it can't be controlled or they're already good enough. Wrong. We've seen winning presentations lose due to one fumbled answer. This is your chance to really connect with the prospect human to human. To help prepare, set up a team to generate tough questions and rehearse. Your team will really start to shine after a few rounds of being peppered with practice questions. Easy, tough, and just plain odd questions make for the best practice. Learn how to listen respectfully and attentively to every question, and always clarify the question before you start to answer. The leader should field each question, and then direct one person to answer. Never re-answer a question. It's one and done. Be confident.
Strike at your peak
Winning presentations is all about the team. And just like an award-winning cast, go in at your peak. After all the rehearsals, get a good night's sleep and go into the meeting hungry. Make sure everyone's outfit matches (not like band uniforms, but make them well-coordinated). Have a producer to make sure everything has been handled. Use production assistants and grips to take care of the small stuff. Your team should reflect energy back to whoever is narrating throughout each phase; never look down or appear bored. Understand your only job is to set the bar so high no other agency can come close. Shine.
You've done all this work, but don't forget that some people sit and wait through the rolling credits. Reward them by keeping the movie rolling, and provide a little extra at the end. The movie isn't over until you're past the prospect's curb. So many agencies finish up the presentation and relax. Bad move. Know how to close the presentation by leaving in a well organized, impressive way. While the grips pack up, your team should be relaxed, smiling, and chatting with any prospects that are still around (i.e., building chemistry). After a small sign from the leader, the whole team should thank the prospects, shake hands, and "parade" out. A bit of staged theater, but it works. It's good to see everyone laughing, some pats on the back, and a few pointed comments about how powerful it was, especially if there is another agency waiting in the halls. Anything you can do to take the wind out of their sails is just gravy.
Now you have the tools to connect on a human level throughout your presentation. But the job isn't over yet. Every agency knows to respond within 24 hours with a handwritten thank you note. (Right?) But you should be able to do a bit more. Be memorable. Pay attention to the prospect's reactions and questions, and find a way to reconnect your presentation story with a small gift. If no gifts are allowed, then make a more personal comment in your note. Stress the human-to-human connection you made in the presentation.
Every 12 or 15 months your agency will be face-to-face with a new business opportunity that, if won, has the power to redefine your agency because of the account's size, scope, industry, or reputation. When this happens, don't forget about the importance of making a powerful connection on an emotional level.
"Audience listening to presentation at conference" image via Shutterstock.