The creative pitch: Companies invite agencies to present creative proposals on how to improve their marketing and therefore their bottom line. Best proposal wins.
For a start, clients run only one campaign for every 16 they are presented in pitches. (Thanks Martin Jones, AAR Guru & Brighton fan.)
How can it be that fifteen of the sixteen agencies get the brief so wrong that they end up throwing their time, energy a work in the bin?
Because, as I’m often told, clients aren’t looking for a solution, they’re looking for partners to help find a solution with them.
If you’re in the client relationships bit of an agency, it makes total sense, in the departments that come up with solutions, not so much.
Because in the strategic or creative departments you wander around thinking what the hell can we say to transform this business?
The people who are good tend to worry about it, they don’t dash off an idea then pop to the Ivy for a celebratory glass of fizz, they pace around thinking ‘It can’t be done, it can’t be done, it can’t be done’ until at some point, like a miracle, they think ‘Oh…this might work?’
So when you’re pacing around and someone wants to talk about the Here’s some of the advice on the softer issues I’ve been given by the people who know pitching best:
‘Remember, James Murphy always pours the tea…and sometimes he’ll even sit on the table next to the clients…it says – I’m just one of the guys’.
‘Agency X win so much because they’re normal, not super clever, so they’re not threatening to clients.’
‘You take too many notes in chemistry meetings, it looks like you’re not interested, always keep eye contact with the clients’.
‘Johnny Hornby has nicknames for everyone, he’ll be like ‘Hey Jenksy, pass the milk’ and ‘Hey Boffo tell them your thought on whatever…it makes them feel like a gang, it creates a very matey vibe.’
‘Here’s a little tip, Agency X always does it; ask the clients how their journey there was, it’s a great ice-breaker, it shows empathy.’
Pure gold, right? (If that doesn’t improve your pitch conversion rate nothing will.)
You’re then faced with a choice: ignore the advice and feel guilty or adopt it and feel fake.
Unfortunately, I’m generally too anxious about solving the clients problem to remember to ask them their star sign or favourite Kardashian.
This was reflected in Campbell Doyle Dye’s pitch conversion rate.
So once, with Innocent Smoothies, I tried to be less solution-obsessed.
At BMP/DDB in the late nineties, everyone’s favourite account man was a handsome young dude called Richard Reed.
Charismatic, energetic, clever, persuasive, it was assumed he’d be running the place before long.
Then, one day he comes into Sean and I’s office ‘I’ve resigned!’.
It was a bombshell; ‘Where are going?’
‘Nowhere, I’m starting a company with my mates from Uni’.
‘Don’t know yet, BMP are letting us use an office upstairs for the next three to work out what’.
What an idiot!
(Also, damn! Who’s going to sell our VW ads now?)
Every few weeks I’d get an update ‘don’t know yet’.
About ten weeks in; Bingo! ‘We’re just going to crush fruit and put it in little bottles!’
Jesus! That took ten weeks? Ok.
‘Can you think of any names, we’ve got one but we’re not sure…Innocent.’
Me: ‘Too twee’.
A week later I suggest ‘What about “No!” It’s odd, sounds a bit New Yorky and links in because, y’know, it’s got no this, no that, etc…just fruit… squashed into bottles…better than ‘Innocent’?’
‘I like, let’s test it’.
The sheer lack of bottles of NO on your local shelves will tell you it didn’t win, ‘a very close second!’.
I then watched as Innocent became one of the most successful brands around.
First, Richard Flintham & Andy McLeod’s bin idea: Bins at a Festival taste testing below a sign saying ‘Should we quit our jobs and start this company? (Empties in appropriate bin)’.
On one bin was written ‘Yes’, on the other ‘No’.
People still talk about that today.
Richard & Andy’s brand new start-up, Fallon, were appointed to work on the brand, paid in little bottles of squashed fruit.
They did some great work.
This is my favourite:
Innocent then got a friend, Dan Germain, to write the copy for them, particularly on their bottles.
It was great, charming, irreverent and funny, it totally defined the brand.
Before long other marketing directors were either talking about or copying it.
Then, I started spotting vans driving around London covered in grass.
Little knitted hats started appearing on their bottles in my local shop.
In short, they created a brand.
One of the most influential marketing brands in the last 20 years.
‘Innocent to pitch’ Campaign said.
I’d loved the Fallon work and had seen the brand grown nothing to famous.
I wrote Richard a letter, essentially telling he was being daft, (again), I laid out exactly why he’d be mad to part with Fallon.
Ring-Ring, Ring-Ring: ‘Love the letter, it’s the best new business approach I’ve ever received, you should pitch.”
I was recommending that he stay with Fallon, but I was also aware that there may be a reason that he couldn’t or didn’t want to, regardless of what they’d done, but didn’t expect to be called out on it though.
We go to Fruit Towers to get briefed, it wasn’t as tall or fruity as the name suggested, it was a nondescript trading estate behind Shepherds Bush. But the Innocent part was very on brand, messages and jokes everywhere.
Amongst the parking spaces in the front, was painted ‘Golf’, making fun of the ubiquity of that particular VW model at the time.
Words were painted above every door and window on the front of the building – ‘Customers’, ‘Deliveries’, ‘Burglars’, etc.
Inside, the humour continued, in the lab the white coats had names embroidered on like ‘Top Banana’.
What struck me was not that all of these ideas were amazing, but they’d all been executed, effort and cash had made them happen.
Lot’s of people suggest funny things ‘we should do’ in the office, few actually do it.
We get to the end of the tour, Richard asks ‘Any questions?’.
‘Yes…How do we win?’ I ask.
There’s a bit of laughter as this is seen as cheeky, or even cheaty, then Richard answers ‘Collaborate’.
CDD had been on a bad run on pitches, I figure that Innocent, one of the most talked about brands of the time, would really hep us.
So if collaboration is what it takes to win we’ll collaborate as much as humanly possible.
I offer present creative work to Innocent at the end of every day for the next two weeks. Like one, long continuous tissue meeting.
BRIEF: ‘There are a lot of people moving into this market, it’s all about branding, we need “
SOLUTION: We need a branded line, like those old GGT ads, where the name and line are one.
LINE: Innocent, as the name suggests.
FEEDBACK: ‘Doesn’t feel like us, too name focussed, we have a point of difference: our smoothies are 100% natural.’
SOLUTION: Let’s talk about what’s in the bottles, but not in a worthy way.
LINE: Innocent. 100% natural, cross our heart and hope to die.
FEEDBACK: ‘Too London, we need to explain to housewives in Leeds what a smoothie is, it’s natural, good for you, good for your insides.’
SOLUTION: Smoothies are simply squashed up fruit and that’s good for your body.
LINE: Innocent. Cleanse yourself with squashed up fruit.
‘Squashed up fruit is just so generic, we need something branded, own-able.”
SOLUTION: We need a branded line, like those old GGT ads, where the name and line are one.
LINE: Innocent by nature.
FEEDBACK: ‘Quite like the line, but we need a bigger idea, what if we open gyms? Retreats?’
SOLUTION: Innocent is a well-being company, they are all about your health.
LINE: Innocent. The Natural Health Service.
FEEDBACK: ‘I like it, the thing is…some parts of the country still don’t even know what smoothies are…I think we need to tackle that first.’
SOLUTION: Drinks that are good for you, almost the anti-alcohol.
LINE: Innocent. Drink Responsibly.
FEEDBACK: ‘No, no, no….we don’t want to be linked to alcohol, we’re innocent, fruit, we’re good.’
SOLUTION: Innocent fruit is good, like the goody-goody in a class full of bad foods.
LINE: Innocent. Made from thoroughly good fruit.
SOLUTION: Double entendres, but the fruit is so innocent it doesn’t even get the other meaning.
LINE: Unashamedly Innocent.
FEEDBACK: ‘Wow! Way too childish…and weird, it’s £2 a bottle, it’s not a kids drink.’
SOLUTION: Relate Innocent Smoothies to what people do in their lives.
LINE: Innocent. Fruit. That’s all folks.
FEEDBACK: ‘One of the competitors is getting a bit of traction, we’re so much better, more natural than them, maybe we should call them out?”
SOLUTION: Let’s point out that Innocent are just fruit, others, like PJs, use fruit concentrate.
LINE: Innocent. Fruit. That’s all folks.
FEEDBACK: ‘We shouldn’t knock, it doesn’t feel Innocent, we’re a positive, upbeat brand. Our thing is that we’re natural…and what’s better than nature?’
SOLUTION: Mother Nature is against the unnatural, but she’s not gentle, she’s forceful and a bit scary.
LINE: Innocent. We don’t mess with Mother Nature.
FRIDAY FEEDBACK: ‘Mmm…What drugs were you lot on?…it’s quite simple, we need to tell people who don’t know what smoothies are that it’s just crushed fruit.’
SOLUTION: Unusual ways of squashing fruit.
LINE: Innocent. We just squash fruit.
SOLUTION: Maybe we show Innocent replacing fruit?
LINE: Innocent. Technically, it’s a fruit.
SOLUTION: We spoof the famous ‘Man From Delmonte’ campaign.
LINE: The man from Innocent, he say ‘No!’.
FEEDBACK: ‘No, no, no, we’ve got to explain what smoothies are to people who don’t know.’
SOLUTION: Ok, let’s cut thew bullshit, let’s tell it like it is; really sweet tasting drinks that are good for you as stuff that doesn’t taste nice.
LINE: Innocent. Where ‘good for you’ meets ‘Mmm, yummy’.
FEEDBACK: ‘I like it…a lot…but no.’
(Note to self: Don’t be so bloody collaborative next time.)
We’ve zig-zagged all over the place for the last two weeks, we’re probably less clear now than we were when we started.
We have a mountain of rejected work.
Much of which was liked, none of which was bought.
I pin all the liked stuff on the wall; there’s no thru-line, it’s all over the map.
It’s a shame to throw such a lot of creative work in the bin.
I have an idea; Let’s at least remind the fuckers that we did such a lot of work and were pulled all over the place, let’s put it all in a book.
It could be a kind of how we got here, our ‘working out’, we can pretend that all that zigzagging was positive and lead to our new creative recommendation.
Maybe we could pick out all the ideas that were liked in blue, to remind them that they liked a lot of stuff.
We’ll hand them out at the beginning of the pitch.
So what is our creative recommendation?
With only days to go we are nowhere.
I try to clear my head, forget everything we’ve done over the last two weeks and think about what I think Innocent stands for.
I make some decisions:
DECISION 1: The bottle is brand.
The part that the consumers engage with most.
They not only like the content of the bottles, they love the tone and irreverence of the bottles.
So let’s make our work like the bottles.
DECISION 2: The tone should come from the bottles; Upbeat, funny, irreverent, human and positive almost naive.
DECISION 3: The look should come from the bottles; Simple, minimal, word lead.
Cartoons, illustrations and imagery don’t feel like the bottle, so let’s not use them.
DECISION 4: The bottles talk specifics, they’re straight talking and piss-taking: Big theoretical brand ideas, like ‘The Natural Health Service’ feel too airy-fairy, let’s keep it grounded.
DECISION 5: The bottles use irreverent small print; Let’s use irreverent small print on our ads.
We set about repurposing and rewriting.
It was tricky to represent the bottle in film.
How do we capture that upbeat, funny, irreverent, human, positive, naive, dare I say it, ‘innocent’ vibe?
And do it in a visually distinctive way that stands out?
We settle on an old style of animation called ‘boiling’, made famous by Bob Godfrey in the 1970s with this tv series.
It avoids feeling slick and advertisingy.
It’ll add charm to our commercials that explain what smoothies are and why Innocent smoothies are better than the competition.
We didn’t win, but, and here’s the good news; we were a ‘very close second’. Hurrah!
I was told a few months later that the C.E.O. of the winning agency had offered their services free for the first year and start cycling to work everyday.
Who knows whether this is true?
(No, seriously, who knows if this is true, comment.)
Weirdly, the new work used the line we’d recommended.
That can happen, it’s not like it’s the most left-field thought.
The new tv ads had a very similar structure and low-tech charm to our recommendation.
Well, I guess that’s not some kind of unique recipe we whipped up.
The print used the small print from the bottles, like we’d suggested.
Well, we didn’t invent that, we took it from their bottles.
For a couple of years afterwards, every time I saw an Innocent ad I’d see remnants or ‘echoes’ of our pitch.
Were we being ripped off or because we’d covered so much of the map that others were bound to wander into the same locations?
In conclusion, I have two pieces of advice when pitching:
1. Never give the client a handy pocket-sized book stuffed with thousands of free ideas in, they may use them.
2. When a prospective client walks into the room, ask ‘How was the journey here?’.
It’s good ice-breaker.