THE CLIENT IS AN IDIOT
It was cold out but that wasn’t why I was feeling numb. Dragging a portfolio full of unsold work back into the agency I explained my defeat to the creative director. “The client is an idiot. He wouldn’t know good work if it bit him in the ass. We should resign the account.” The CD sat back, took off his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose and asked his young copywriter, “What did you do to sell the work?” That seemed like an odd question. “I presented it”, I replied, noticing that he didn’t offer me a chair. “No, that’s not what I asked. I asked what did you do to sell the work?” And so began my education.
Fast forward thousands of ads, several creative directorships, a few global creative directorships and I now find myself teaching creative people how to sell the work they labor so hard to make. Notice I said sell and not present. It’s easy to confuse the two, until you’re working the weekend.
Anyone can present advertising. Just show it. Sometimes that’s all it takes to close the deal. But when it’s not, which is most of the time, you better have a few more skills up your sleeve. Truth is, the exact same work can be presented to the exact same audience and have the exact opposite outcome, depending on who’s showing it. Those who put on their business hats before their creative hats increase the odds of success significantly. I call this “Why Before What”.
Advertising is a subjective thing. People tend to pass judgement very quickly. What novice presenters don’t appreciate is that it’s much easier to shape an opinion than to change one. “Why Before What” adds objectivity to the equation. It’s a process (a couple of minutes, tops) of leading your audience to a natural conclusion, namely your work. By the time you show it, they’re primed to buy because no matter how unexpected the executions, you’ve got them thinking why it’s smart ahead of time.
As it turns out, most clients aren’t idiots after all. They appreciate clever, inventive creative work. But when push comes to shove, they’ll choose smart over clever nine times out of ten. Solution: don’t make them choose.
Several years ago The Martin Agency was pitching Quiznos restaurants. When it came time for me to present the work, I didn’t start with TV or digital or any work at all. The campaign I was about to show was so bizarre that without a smart setup it was DOA. So I began with Quiznos’ target audience: males 18 to 24. I explained that they don’t think like normal people. They do things like jump off balconies into swimming pools and regularly use the phrase “Watch this…” They’re, well, you know, guys. Then I showed a video we made by going to college campuses with a laptop, headphones and a camera. We intercepted young men in our target audience on their way to class and asked them to look at something on the laptop. They put on the headphones and, without the camera seeing what they were watching, we pushed play… and they started laughing. And hooting. And loving. And wanting more. When the video was done playing I said to the clients, “What are they looking at? Oh wait, I know. Your new campaign.” I hit the play button one more time so they could see it for themselves. And we won.