How I learned to stop worrying and get clients to fall in love

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The creative chief of RPA shares his top tips on how make a winning presentation

How’d it go? That’s the inevitable question after the big presentation. The answer you hope to deliver back is, "Great! They loved it," rather than, "Well … " Heading up the creative department at an advertising agency can be stressful. Especially when presenting the blood, sweat and tears of the entire team.

Here are 12 things I’ve learned to help not only sell the idea, but also get clients to fall in love with it:

Know the objectives. It’s clear these days — with strategic planning, measurement tools, analytics, focus groups, you’re expected to know the objective. It’s not just about doing something cool; it’s about doing something cool that will work. Have solutions for specific problems. Make sure to map to the agreed-upon goals.

Poke holes. No idea is bulletproof. Try to look at it from every angle. Bring the ideas to others. Hear their reactions. Be prepared to answer questions with conviction. Have solid reasons for why you did what you did.

See it through the client’s eyes. It’s not just about funny, cool and breakthrough. (You shouldn’t be showing clients anything not breakthrough.) Ask yourself these questions: How does the concept benefit the goal? What’s going to help the business? How is this going to solve a problem? How are they going to sell this campaign within the organization? The client’s name will forever be attached to the work. Make sure the idea will be a source of pride, in their world.

Use "we," not "I." It takes a village. Ideas grow and develop with input. Take ideas to tech, digital and social strategy to get others invested. An idea is more valuable with support behind it. Consensus and collaboration helps. It’s our idea. Not my idea.

Build trust. It’s hard to convince someone to invest, figuratively and literally (not to mention emotionally) in a new thought. Trust can overcome the unfamiliar (breakthrough often is). If there is trust, there is more comfort in taking a chance. Trust is built when you’re looking out for the client’s best interest. Never lose sight of building trust; it’s wise capital you can lean on.

Don’t get lost in the weeds. Present an idea that is thought through and explained thoroughly. Make sure details are researched. Know what’s feasible but don’t belabor the minutia of how it will be executed. Don’t confuse with too many details. Be smart, but brief. Everyone can appreciate a painting without knowing what it took to create it.

Practice, practice, practice. Rehearse. Find what works, and what doesn’t. Creating a deck and presenting a deck are two different things. Be excited and passionate, show that the idea is figured out as much possible. Be able to defend the work, why it’s right. When you’re confident, it shows people believe in it.

Take them on a journey. Don’t sell. Tell a story. Let them fall in love. Remind yourself of elementary school storytelling guidelines. There’s a captivating intro, details that build up to a riveting climax, and a conclusion that ties it all together.\

Stick to your guns. When recommending a campaign, be definitive about it. Own your pitch. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere this time, it might the next time. You’re only going to "sell" one campaign – it’s a multiple-choice business. Point out differences. But be careful not to undersell anything. Your second choice may make hearts flutter.

Reflect what you see. If you get a reaction, acknowledge it. Get the clients to say why they gravitate to a particular area or thought. This can help them process their own emotional thoughts. The more they understand the thought process — as a consumer would — the better.

Take feedback as positive. Remember the larger goal and realize no one has all the answers. Don’t let a critique become personal. Ultimately it’s about what will resonate with the audience. Don’t fix issues in the room. Take input and use the opportunity to make the idea even better.

Let you be you. Be genuine. Don’t act. Be yourself. Be a thoughtful creator not a thespian. You are held in wonder for what you come up with. Embrace it. Your audience will too.

Take these thoughts to your next presentation, but don’t worry, the good ideas will survive. And you will, too. Getting clients on board with your concept is work. Just like any relationship, it takes passion, patience and practice. And like anything having to do with love, the more you do it, the better you get.

Joe Baratelli is chief creative officer of RPA in Los Angeles.


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