'An all icing cake sucks' – How to sell your creative ideas to clients

Have you ever watched a commercial and thought to yourself, "well I could have done better than that"? I do all the time. The amount of epic fails in advertising baffles me, especially when you know how much is spent on media.

Don't worry, The Smink Agency isn't challenging the market anytime soon, even though the name is catchy. Selling a creative idea is however, a part of my everyday at The Drum. It can be as simple as a branded article to as complex as a video series. The best part is that each client is different and has different goals, with different audiences, and different products, making every pitch unique. That's why I reached out to the most imaginative folks I know to learn how to pitch a creative idea, Huge.

Matt Waghorn, group director of communications planning at Huge, whose job is to be the glue between creative production and media planning, knows a thing or two about selling a creative idea. Waghorn, pictured above, works with the team to brainstorm and on pitch prep and has even participated in a few himself. When pitching some of the largest brands, such as Google, Morgan Stanley, and Canada Goose, Waghorn emphasizes it’s important to have “a narrative based on the brand's philosophy, a point of view that's unique, validation for the idea so you can interrogate it, and beyond all things not being pretentious – understand when to stop selling”.

Easier said than done! Creating a narrative and developing a unique point of view is a challenge in and of itself. Waghorn shared that he finds his inspiration after a good night sleep. He continues, “When my brain turns to mush from too much strained thinking all you get is derivative ideas. I find my most original thinking happens first thing in morning.” But he won’t discount those adventurous ideas after a glass of whiskey.

With all of the pitches and successful campaigns, what type of ideas actually work? Before diving in Waghorn shared one fundamental mistake we all make, assuming advertising works and repeating what was successful in print on TV, and then TV in digital, and now mobile. “It just doesn’t work that way,” he said. Each medium is different and customers interact with each channel different.

Media today, and successful ideas, come from layering your campaign with these channels but it’s all about the foundation. He uses the analogy of a cake, “an all icing cake sucks.” You need a strong foundational experience, in this case cake, to build upon and icing the cake with print, TV, and social. To enforce this concept, Waghorn referred to the Red Bull Stratos campaign whereby the foundational experience was the skydive from space. Then building upon the experience was video coverage, social elements, and so on. This makes for a more engaging and emotional experience for customers.

Which prompted me to ask, "how do you build emotion into your idea and then into your pitch to the client?" He said, “Tell a personal story about the process. Then describe how you worked through the idea, details are important, that's what makes an idea feasible.” You're not just selling your services, you're selling an idea, something conjured up in the depths of your silliest memory, and most uplifting achievements. Tapping into your emotion is key.

However, what really stuck with me was his candid advice, “know when to chop down your idea and stop selling.” We all fall victim to a great idea, it’s your baby, but as Waghorn explained, “if someone doesn’t like your idea there’s probably a reason.” It’s often a gut reaction when the client says “I don’t like it”, let them have that feeling, chop down your idea, and move on.

Madelyn Sminkey is a key account manager at The Drum. She tweets @MadelynSminkey

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