Wednesday, 24 June 2015

achieving perfect pitch

It’s what we put out there that either attracts or repulses people. Sorry if that sounds a tad like a self-help book full of self-indulgent Yankee quotes, but that’s the truth of it.
In the 21st century image is everything, especially when getting your foot in the door and your business card in someone’s wallet or handbag, or both.
Dating sites are the perfect example of this; I was shocked to find that people tell masses of small fibs on them; they elaborate upon their good points and downright lie hugely about their dodgy bits. They’ll perjure themselves about almost anything to get you sitting opposite them in a crap coffee house or a swanky restaurant. Body shape, age, height and the number of remaining follicles clutching to their scalp are just the beginning. And then later they’ll wonder why their relationships flounder and ultimately fail in a morass of exaggeration and misrepresentation. It’s all more than a little disheartening.

But then, of course, self-promotion is rather big business these days.

Ad agencies are like circling speed-dating gatherings cranked up on a large amount of suspicious substances, all gagging to tempt new clients through their rather too welcoming doors.
Adland is full of eclectic behaviour and none more so than when
confronted by a new business possibility. Some guys simply dust off their agency credentials, packed with scintillating facts about staff members and former glories of creaky old campaigns. Others do a lively song and dance basing their presentation on fluffy personalities and a seductive mixture of smoke and mirrors.
There was an agency called Allen Brady & Marsh, creators of the terrible Guinnlessness campaign, that would incessantly dress up in fancy dress for pitches. Anything from stripping bananas to arks full of flashy fur animals and wobbly latex pints of beer would greet clients as they got off the lift clutching their sensible briefs. “Make it memorable,” was carved into ABM’s souls and even the pitches they didn’t win, which weren’t many, left the whole of Adland breathless with legendary, and hard to follow, performances.
That’s what pitching is after all, a form of performance art, packed with subtle nuances that not only show off your own talents but also highlight the failings of the competitors. So we add flash and verve, make ourselves brighter, more colourful with an exciting soundtrack. We throw in some campaign promises that would make a politician squirm, talk vaguely of transparency and cover the gaps with marshmallow sauce and invisible tape.
“Partnerships” and “custodians of the Brand” are much abused buzz phrases, often surrounded by what my granddaddy would have called ‘”high falutin’ words.” The Universal McCann pitch film is drenched in the stuff, listen in awe at:

The clients, naturally, feed it back to us in bucketfuls. With prospective market share graphs, unique product attributes and inflated budgets, it’s a game where the rules are fairly cut and dried but the floor is constantly shifting. At it’s worst it’s a back-stabbing, crony-loaded sham, at it’s best it’s an invigorating breath of fresh thinking and muscle-flexing that puts us all back in the game and brings out our natural combativeness. It’s great.

My art director, for instance, never one to hold her intriguingly pierced tongue, is a particularly gifted presenter and, while scrupulously honest in real life, will gladly spin a yarn of tortuous intricacy to win a point in a pitch.
Pitches can make you a little crazy.

Pitches can also, however, bring out the best in an agency as the people come together to use their often prodigious grey matter to solve the new challenges inherent in a pitch. A new client, or even a new product is fertile ground for people who work on the same stuff day after day and the resulting work is often deliciously exciting.

The really good agencies look for a unique insight into the client and their product, Robin Wight, founder of WCRS, always claimed he “interrogated the Brand until it confessed its strengths.” It’s phrase that has become more well worn than “I know nothing about the arms deal,” but worked perfectly well for decades for an agency at the top of their game.
On the American sit/com/dram, “Madmen,” there’s a great scene that highlights this perfectly when Don pitches to Kodak to win the campaign for their new “Wheel.” It’s a beautifully timed scene climaxing in the agency recommending a new name for the product. Thus, they would have us believe, The Kodak Carousel was born. Catch this moment of calm madness at:

In these days where we all seem to dance to the organ grinder of reality TV there are now shows where they test agencies with fake briefs so they can do their pitch tricks live on telly. The brief will usually be something controversial, selling guns to kids; a pheromone drenched deodorant, or my particular favourite, encouraging Australians to invade New Zealand. In one Aussie show they posed this idea of down-under warfare and received a few impressive and very typically antipodean, campaigns. Have a look at:

Campaign one got my vote simply because I could imagine South Africans going for it too,

The agencies involved were more than happy to flex their creative muscles on prime time TV. After all there were potential clients on the edge of their sofas out there. And as they used to say to back in the 20th century, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

For most of us this level of blatant self-promotion takes some practice. Personally I’m forever telling people I’m a nice guy, but as my closest friend often reminds me from under her bar stool, nice guys will always finish last, and no one will give a damn.
But I could just be being a little disingenuous.

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