Thursday, November 19, 2009

Power Point Punch Up

The following article was publish in Med Ad News --

Over the years, it has become fashionable to criticize PowerPoint for making agency presentations long and boring. But PowerPoint does not make for boring presentations. Bad presenters make presentations boring. Let’s think about the components of a boring presentation and address them individually.
Too much data, not enough story is one common flaw. The slide deck is not supposed to be a comprehensive explanation of your presentation. The slide deck is a visual aid. The slide show is supposed to aid the presenter in delivering her message to the audience. Never lose sight of the fact that the presenter is the compelling component of the presentation, not the deck. If the deck were the compelling component, we would simply e-mail the deck to the audience and not have to fly half way across the country to make a presentation.
But wait you say, “The deck is our leave behind. We need a comprehensive leave behind in case someone misses our presentation.” It is true that if you take information off of the deck, it will no longer be your comprehensive leave behind. If you have to choose between a comprehensive leave behind and a solid presentation that helps instead of hinders the presenter, always choose the latter. In the history of advertising, no one has ever won a pitch because they had the best leave behind, but plenty of people have lost pitches because their presentations were painfully boring.
But wait you say, “…I want all of the information on the screen in case our junior person forgets something.” When you have all of the information on the screen and the junior person is forced to just read the slide, that person is offering no value to the audience. The audience could just as easily read the slide themselves. It is as if a really smart person wrote the slide, and then gave it to this (not so smart person) to present. You would be better off if they missed a point or two but remembered a few points that are not on the slide. The solution is to write the slide with all of the content so that the junior person can get the content down. After they understand the content, remove some of the points (typically sub-bullets) so that they can look smart at the pitch. If they miss a point or two, don’t worry about it. The goal is for them to look smart in front of the client, not for them to remember every point.
But wait you say, “PowerPoint slides can be so boring with a sea of bullet points.” It is not a mandate that slide shows are dominated by bullets. Mix it up a bit. Some bullets, some pictures, some video. If you are no longer worried about getting every last bit of text on the slide, it frees you up to be much more creative with slide composition. The one thing to avoid is clip art. Most clients expect their advertising agency to be able to come up with something more creative than clip art.
So we have addressed some issues in PowerPoint that are more a function of the user than the software, but that doesn’t mean that PowerPoint is the ultimate in presentation tools. Keynote is rapidly gaining acceptance in the new business world, but it has at least one pretty big flaw. Since not everyone at the agency uses Keynote, agencies tend to rely on their Keynote specialist for making every little change to the deck. This creates a significant bottleneck in the development of the presentation. This can create a severe limitation, all for the promise of marginally prettier slide shows.
I have seen circumstances where the deck was written in PowerPoint and then given to the Keynote specialist to convert. This method avoided the bottleneck problem, but then the team practiced with PowerPoint and did not receive the Keynote deck until the eleventh hour. Presentation teams are probably better off presenting with PowerPoint if that is what they rehearsed with. When Keynote is widely used throughout the agency, it will be a great tool for presentations, but in the meantime, it creates as many problems as it solves.
Boards and flip charts are another presentation tool that are making a comeback after years of PowerPoint use. Boards and flip charts have some distinct advantages over presentation software. The biggest advantage is that because boards require production time, they require a “pencils down” time. Presentation software’s promise of a perfect presentation can lure staff into never ending tweaks to the deck, even in the cab ride to the pitch. This type of last minute thinking certainly makes the presentation different but rarely makes it better. The last minute tweaks always raise the level of tension on the team, which is a recipe for disaster.
Just like presentation software, boards have some legendary issues of their own. Production snafus and size are the two biggest issues. If you have done new business long enough, you know what I am talking about.
Regardless of the presentation tool you decide to use, never lose sight of the fact that the presenter is the single most compelling part of the presentation. If the presenter is the key, then make sure everything in your new business presentation is designed to make the presenter more compelling.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Death to PowerPoint??

Does PowerPoint the cause of boring presentations? What are your thoughts.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The most imporatant part of the content...

The key to most new business presentations is figuring out what parts of the presentation should stay and what parts of the presentation are not necessary.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Monday, October 12, 2009

I just conducted a workshop in Kansas City for the AAAA on presenting creative work. It was a full house with people from all over the mid-west. The big takeaway for most of the people in the room was ..."Remember, you are solving a business problem, not a creative problem." This means that the greater the business credibility that the creative staff has during the presentation, the more likely the client/prospect is to accept your solution.

Something as simple as reiterating the strategy prior to showing the creative work can help to establish the creative staff's credibility. I understand that it is likely that the planner or account person just presented the strategy, and it may seem redundant for you to do a brief summary of the strategy. Recognize you are doing this brief summary of the strategy to show that YOU understand the strategy.

I am a big believer that in the creative world countless hours are wasted reworking creative not because the creative needed reworking, but because the client didn't "get it." I am a big fan of getting ideas accepted more quickly so do whatever it takes to get that to happen.

Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Should junior staff go to pitches?

I also post to the AAAA blog on business development and I posted the same question "Should junior staff attend pitches or not, that is the question." After some spirited blogging on the topic of bringing day-to-day staff to pitches, there are three points that bubble up to the surface.

First – While it may seem obvious, bring people to pitches that present well. Everyone agrees that poor presenting, junior staff should not go to pitches but agencies would be well served to make their senior staff clear the same high-bar that they set for the junior staff. Do not expect prospective clients to be able to see through the poor communication skills to see the genius that is your poor presenting VP.

Second – The bar is lower for junior staff. When a VP gets up at a pitch and does a great job, the VP does not exceed the prospective client’s expectations. Prospects expect to be wowed by VP level staff. When a junior person gets up and does a great job, they exceed the prospect’s expectations. In addition, the prospect now thinks that every junior level person is as smart as the one that just presented. Make their part easy (perhaps the industry overview) but give them a chance to shine.

Third - If they (junior staff) attend, they talk. While it may be tempting to bring a junior person to the pitch but not give the a speaking part, think about the message that this sends to the prospective client. The only message that the prospect can take away from this is that while you are happy to bill the prospect 100% for this person, you do not trust the junior person enough to talk at the presentation. Not the message you want to send to a client. While we are on the topic, make sure to give the junior person a part that is 5 or so minutes long. Most presenters get better after the initial nervousness. If the part is too short, the client will only get to see them at their most nervous.

I am not suggesting loading up pitch teams with junior staff but it may be smart to bring one or two people that will working with the client on a daily basis. They will need some coaching and plenty of time to prepare (no changing their part at the last minute), but the energy that they bring to the pitch may very well help you win.

Mark Schnurman

Pitch Therapist

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pitch activity -- are we coming out of the recession?

I am not sure what everyone else is experiencing, but we are seeing a significant increase in pitch activity compared to the first and second quarter. Granted, some of this is a function of clients inviting another agency to pitch. If there were three agencies in the final in a few years ago, now it is not uncommon to have four agencies in the finals now. Whether it is more agencies pitching or more pitches, it is still nice to see an increase in activity.

Even training, which is tends to follow the business cycle very closely is way up for Filament compared to the first half of the year. Hopefully this means that the worst is over.

What is everyone else experiencing? Is the second-half shaping up to be better or worse than the first-half of '09?

-Mark Schnurman
Pitch Consultant

Monday, July 27, 2009

To bring junior staff to a pitch or not...that is the question

I was speaking at a workshop on new business the other day and raised the question of whether to bring junior (day to day) staff to a pitch and I was surprised at the responses of the group.

Anyone have a thought one way or another?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Agencies Bend to Client Whims

There is a great article by Andrew McMains in AdWeek on the demands that clients and prospects are placing on agencies. The article calls out a few of the recent pitches that Zappos and Amazon are engaged in. If you haven't heard, the short list for these pitches is near 10 agencies for pitches. Apparently the short list is getting longer.

The following is the link to the article.

Mark Schnurman - Pitch Consultant

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You didn't come in second place

This article is a reprint from my Pitch Therapy column in MedAd News (July 09)

By Mark Schnurman, Pitch Consultant and founder of Filament Inc.

Think back to your agency’s last, unsuccessful new business pitch. Think about the feedback you received from the client. I’ve got news for you. Your agency did not come in second place.

Think about it. With typically four agencies pitching, the law of averages says that 25% of the time you will win (hopefully more if your agency plans on growing), and 25% of the time you will come in forth. Yet agencies never hear back from the client that they were the forth horse in a four horse race. Why is that?

The client has just two goals for that dreaded “you lost” phone call: make you feel good about the agency’s effort so that if there is another pitch in the future, the agency will be a willing participant, and get you off the phone as quickly as possible. The client’s decision is made, and the client has no interest in discussing it with the agency. Agencies have a history of trying to resuscitate a dead sale during these phone calls, which is the very last thing that the client wants to do.

Notice that “giving the agency useful, constructive feedback so that they can do a better job next time” was not one of the two client goals. Instead, they’ll deflect blame and come up with an excuse that you cannot argue with, like the creative was too edgy, they wanted a smaller agency, or they wanted an agency with initials in its name.

The reason that it is so important for an agency to recognize when it is getting false feedback is that the agency does not want to be making changes to the way it conducts a pitch simply because it heard something from a client who was trying to get off the telephone. Think about the implications on the creative department if the agency starts to endlessly shift creative because of this feedback.

If the agency can’t rely on client feedback from a new business pitch, then how can the agency get better at pitching? There are two things that agencies can do. First, listen for trends in feedback. If you get the same feedback repeatedly, there may be an opportunity to improve. Changing an agency’s pitch process or direction based on feedback from one pitch (no matter how important a pitch) can be dangerous. When you start to hear the same feedback repeatedly, it is time to make a change.

The second way to improve the pitch process is to review your own pitches. Your agency has pitched enough to know the difference between your best work and something that falls short of your best work. Here are some hints on how to do an effective review of your agency’s new business pitches.

Gather the entire pitch team in one location for a 30-60 meeting. The meeting needs to be a few days after the pitch (to let the euphoria of the pitch subside) but before you hear from the client. It is important to hold the pitch review prior to getting any client feedback because once the agency hears from the client, agency staff feedback will simply parrot what the client had to say.

Have each team member give feedback starting with the most junior staff. The reason to start with the most junior staff is that once an executive speaks, most staff will simply give feedback that somehow supports the executive’s feedback. Starting at the most junior staff gives the best opportunity for honest, unbiased feedback. The questions to answer are “what worked” and “what could we do better.”

If possible, videotape your dress rehearsal so that you can witness what your client is sitting through. While this is a scary step -- so scary that many agencies are unwilling to do it -- but it may be the difference between winning and “coming in second.”

If you are genuinely interested in improving your agency’s pitch win rate, the single biggest tool for improvement is a scorecard. Create a very simple spreadsheet that records each pitch and whether you won or lost. No excuses (i.e., the decision was made before we pitched). You either win or lose. If you are winning at least 50%, the agency is growing. If you are winning 25% of the time, you are probably treading water. If you are winning less than 25% of the time, recognize that it is time to make some changes to the process.

Ultimately, it is the agency’s responsibility to improve its new business pitch process, not the client’s responsibility. When you look at it that way, it is easy to see where the client is coming from with the “you came in second place” phone call.

Editor’s note: Pitch Therapy is part of a series of guest articles written Mark Schnurman, Pitch Consultant and founder of Filament Inc., a new business consulting and communication skills training firm working exclusively with pharma and consumer advertising agencies. Post your comments here or feel free to email me at

Real Time Analytics