Learning From The Hollywood Pitch

Here in the New York creative department we've been in a full-court-press over the past few weeks pitching ideas to clients old and new. We’ve been having a lot of discussion about the type of storytelling that best sells big marketing platforms and campaigns, as opposed to the more specific tactics and project responses we’re often more accustomed to.

In my experience, these big campaign pitches are something that general agencies are much better at doing than digital agencies. On our worst days in digital, we're way too eager to jump into the minutiae of functionality.

From past experience, I’ve come to believe that the bigger the idea you're pitching, the less you should show.  It’s like a monster movie: reveal too much of the monster early on and you've lost your audience. But reveal glimpses and I guarantee that your audience has a much better imagination than you can predict.

Rightly or wrongly, walking into any client meeting, you're about to sit down with a group of folks who already have a pre-conceived notion of what you're going to show them. Give them too much detail, and if it's not to their liking, then you've lost them. Give them enough "air" in the idea and you're giving them the room to fill in the blanks with their own expectations of the potential of the idea.

An engaged client (yes, the kind you'll want to work with in the long run) will jump into the conversation where they see opportunities to impress their thinking on your idea. You'll keep your core idea and win the client, while the client will feel like you "heard" them.

Speaking of movies, another scenario I like to imagine when presenting an idea is the much-discussed 'Elevator Pitch.' Getting the immediate attention of your client is a great opportunity to go through the exercise of boiling your idea down to its simplest explanation. To put a digital twist on it, let's think about that opening pitch in 140 characters or less (plus this’ll give me the perfect excuse to nerd-out over one of my all-time favorite movies:)

We open on me, in an elevator, cornering a Hollywood Executive: "I've got a great idea I want to pitch you, it's called 'Predator.'"

"Make it quick, kid."

I know I don’t have long to grab his attention: "Arnie leads a group of muscle-bound marines into deep jungle in a war movie turned upside down by the arrival of a man-hunting alien." Less than 140 characters.

"Okay, you have my ear, tell me more."

You've got your client's attention. Now is the time to start fleshing out the idea - to put some meat on those bones. But it’s still not time to go deep on features and functionality. Give a plot rundown:

"A US Ambassador's helicopter is mysteriously downed deep in the Central American jungle. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his elite group of crack commandos are brought in on a covert mission to rescue the ambassador and his aides. But they encounter an alien who returns to Earth every few hundred years to hunt the most fearsome humans he can to add to his trophy collection of prey. One by one, he picks off the commandoes, until a final mano-a-mano battle between Arnie and the beast as they go toe-to-toe to see which species will survive."

"Okay kid, I like what I hear," says the Executive as he slams the emergency stop button on the elevator, "Now you've got to convince me that you have what it takes to make this happen.". In other words now—and only now— can you begin talking specific practices to bring your movie to life. The six-foot-seven guy in a monster suit, the camera effects, the helicopter gun the monster will hold by attaching the cables to his legs.

This is what I like to call the features and functionality stage. Yeah, sure,—it's cool that you'll be bringing Augmented Reality technology to the campaign mixed in with a whiz-bang technological soup of Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, and tablet optimization. But if you get mired in those details before you’ve grabbed your client’s imagination, you’ve lost them.  

Remember: your specific technical prowess will impress the client, but you have to leave them some imaginative room in any pitch. Take your time getting to the details. Show them glimpses of your inspiration. In short, next time your pitching a client, think monster movies.

Join the conversation