Selling big ideas in advertising. A tool kit.

This a short excerpt from my master thesis developed as a student of the Berlin School of Creativity, Steinbes-Hochschule University Berlin.

It might help.

 1. You’re in the business of ideas, General Manager of the agency

Big Idea creation and sale, it’s not an easy path. Agencies developed mechanics to make money without creating value. Leo Burnett advised his executives to create great work, because by doing so, the money would come. Not many agencies find beneficial this way of thinking. But the ones aligned with this philosophy are leading the industry, while enjoying a comfortable wealth.
Sir John Hegarty, Marcelo Serpa, Tony Segarra, Dan Wieden and David Kennedy to name a few are very desirable business partners and their work is setting standards of excellence for the whole industry. It’s a value circle.

 A recent study conducted by the Institute for Practice in Advertising from London and the Gun Report, shows that creative campaigns are 11 times more efficient than the non-creative ones, Big Idea is definitely beneficial for the clients too.
The Big Idea creation is leadership because it’s a choice.
It’s conviction.

 2. Assign selling

Any company in this world has a structure that contains: research & development, sales (sometimes integrating marketing), customers’ service, finance, operations and so on. Advertising agencies that produce intangible creative products have R&D: the strategy and the creative, customers’ service and marketing, which is covered by the new business position or by the CEO of the agency. But we don’t have sales. 

The sales of the agency’s creative products is not assigned. The task is vaguely shared among the creative director, the client service director, the strategy director and the people bellow them.

Nobody is really accounted and responsible for the final purpose, which is selling. And this explains why selling is such a weak element. We all know that a goal can’t ever be reached if it’s not clearly stated, assigned, the process is not checked and the result measured. So, assign sales!

 3. Right ammunition for the right client

We as agencies, are meant to provide the best communication that fit our clients’ needs. But sometimes the Big Idea doesn’t fit the clients’ needs. For some companies, as Pepsico Romania’s marketing director told me, the Big Idea is not to take the Big Idea, not to take risks.

Communication standardization, multiple layers of decision are very hard if not impossible barriers to crack. And in many cases, the agencies face rather a conjunction of them. What I’m implying is that the agencies need to choose their battles.

While trying to determine the impact of creativity on clients’ businesses, ADC Germany and McKinsey came out with meaningful conclusions: Succeeding with creativity depends on the industry.

Moreover, the Big Idea’s risk of taking character, claims for the presence of the key decision maker. Companies throw in the game of decision, procurement and legal, which by their intrinsic nature are bottlenecks. The Big Idea in its fragility can’t resist this army of “yes-but-ers”.
It’s crucial to choose the client who’s fit for the impact a Big Idea could produce.

 4. Know the client

Craig Davis came out with a formula, summarizing our weak client’s comprehension. He says that we enter any given assignment knowing 5% percent of the relevant information. A further 15% percent is what we know we don’t know. And the lasting 80% represents the relevant information we don’t even know we don’t know. 
In one of his recent speeches, Keith Reinhardt also enhanced the big importance of the client’s knowledge. 
What if” as the interrogation that leads to Big Idea, it’s only meaningful if it comes after finding a solid answer to the “What is”.

 When meeting with us, the clients don’t expect MBA graduates, they have a passel of those within slapping distance. But they want to know why they should spend money on our Big Idea.
Immersing in the client’s business helps us to show them the return on the investment in our ideas.
Clients’ vision should be captured very early in the relationship. And if it’s not clear, then we need to detect the client’s dream that can be turned into a vision. If our ideas nurture the client’s vision, they will have a stronger support in their way to the public exposure.

Clients’ culture will tell us which values we have to insert in our way of conducting business with them.
nderstanding their company’s structure will help us to identify the decision-making tree and to spot the real decision maker. People with no power can’t buy Big Ideas. It requires too much responsibility and all power comes with responsibility. 
But even if all these are well covered, we should never forget that selling is the ultimate goal on in the heart and in the mind of the decision maker.

 5. Building trust

Nothing majestic in our civilization would have been done without trust: Paris wouldn’t be the exemplary capital if the Emperor Napoleon the 3rd wouldn’t have trusted in Baron Haussmann’s abilities to urbanize the city. 
If the most experienced creative directors in my sample like Luis Bassat declared that they sold “a lot” of Big Ideas, it’s not because they are necessarily more creative than others, but because they are more efficient trust builders.

In understanding trust, an equation created by the Trusted Advisor helped me very much.

The TRUST formula where C is credibility, R is reliability, I is intimacy and SO self-orientation; shows the components of trust-worthiness, enabling us to isolate the impact of each particular component.
Winning Trust requires doing well on all four dimensions, in the client’s eyes.

Credibility is the one aspect of trust that is most commonly achieved. The awards in the meeting rooms represent both competence and experience. 
Credibility is very much related to the agency’s record that, a couple of creative directors in my sample mentioned, is a key success factor in selling Big Ideas.

 Reliability is about whether the client thinks the agency is dependable. It has an explicit action orientation, linking the agency’s word with real facts.

 Business can be intensely personal. One of the biggest mergers in advertising, BBDO – DDB, was originated and executed by two good friends: Keith Reinhard and Allen Rosenshine. Intimacy is driven by honesty and a willingness to expand the bounds while maintaining mutual respect.

I believe that the biggest weakness of the agencies in building trust could be found in the self-orientation dimension. We talk too much about ourselves, about what the esteem creativity can give to us, rather than the benefits it can offer to the clients’ businesses. Or more egregious, while simply transmitting we are in it for the money.

 Trust might resemble a softness matter. But we unconsciously feel more prepared to jump on a rollercoaster – which is the Big Idea, with somebody whom we trust. It’s mentally more comfortable and the experience is more fun.

 6. Repeat. Repeat

Let’s be straight: agencies and clients rarely have aligned agendas. Marketing directors are often involved in complex projects with sales, R&D, and so on. They have difficult bosses, lousy subordinates; they have to run internal politics. We have to admit that their attention for advertising looks like a slice, not like a pie.
It’s our job to enlarge this slice, to grow their appetite for Big Ideas. And here the repetition it’s valuable.

If the agency is systematically building solutions, conversations, public positions, breathing the air of the Big Idea, the clients learn about it. Client’s education turns the strangeness of the Big idea, into something usual, and what is usual gets accepted.

 7. Open the creative process

Usually, the process between clients and agencies goes like this: clients give a brief to the agency, stating a problem, the agency develops strategic-creative solutions and after a period, it shows up. 
After briefing, the clients face a period of uncertainty, mystery, which is very hard to handle. When we go to doctor and the cure doesn’t come on the spot, we want to be present in all stages of the process. From problem to treatment, we go hand in hand with the doctor.

 “Teamwork” describes the clients in my sample, the relationship they want to have with the agencies in order to approve Big Ideas. Teamwork is not mystery, it’s successful openness. 
Understanding the importance of keeping clients close to the creation process, AMV BBDO London, developed a very interesting tool: a microblog shared between the client and the agency’s team working on the project. The blog displays the agency’s approach to the problem, what contributions are added every day and, most important, who are the people working on the project.

With whose solution would the client feel more aligned in the pitch presentation day: the AMV’s or the one of the agency that hid its process and pops up like a scary toy in the box?

 8. Consumers’ understanding

When asked a few months ago about his biggest worry as marketer, Trevor Edwards, Nike’s chief marketing officer answered: “Making sure we're staying ahead of where we think the consumer is going.” 
Consumers are the main worry of Trevor Edwards and most of the marketers in my sample.
We can’t be better than our clients in their businesses but we can help them with fresh perspectives on consumers.

Clients put money in understanding the consumers - which many times kills our creative ideas, but they are not used to look for the genuine, the authentic, that special thing that makes the communication so insightful and engaging. 
As an advertising agency, there is really no substitute for spending time with the people whose motivation we are trying to understand and represent.

By doing so, we can help our clients spot “The Asshole Factor”. 

When Porsche asked the Goodby, Silverstein and Partners agency to pitch its North American business, the company was experiencing serious problems. The only problem the agency could address was that of Porsche’s image. In a discussion with non-Porsche owners, Jon Steel asked them to write down their thoughts about Porsche, in a bubble. One respondent summed up the feeling of many more, writing just one word: “asshole”. One word underlined Porsche’s problem. Several years later, Steel heard a Porsche top executive still referring to the need to address “The Asshole Factor”.

 9. The Front Men

On the agency’s side, selling Big Ideas means a formation of well-performed roles. I’m not preaching a strange coalition making. It’s about assigning trust and building missions. The Creative Director is one of the best assets of an agency. He is smart, funny, convincing and enthusiast. He has driving, breaking-through solutions. He is the one that can build the agency’s credibility in front of the client.

Creative directors are also great connectors, given their insatiable curiosity for people. So, they score great in building intimacy with the client.

But they are really weak on self-orientation dimension. Creation is intimately bond to ego, which many times it’s transparent for the client. Client services is the only position in the agency that keeps a constant relationship with the client. By their role, they make commitments in the name of the agency, so they have the biggest impact on the reliability dimension. Also, the frequency with which they meet the client entitles them for building intimacy.

 The strategist is the least polarizing character: not depreciating the relation by over meetings like client service, and not egocentric as the creative director. They are the wise guys. Given their strategic contribution to the solutions, planners play an important role in enforcing the credibility. And the ambivalence nature of their profession-between business and creativity, gives them a good preparation for keeping low the self-orientation dimension.

The self-orientation dimension requires big contributions from the leader of the agency.

 10. Storytelling

Many companies still share the belief that the business reasoning is generally fueled by the IQ power of the brain while emotional intelligence is seen as a discrete activity. 
A recent study published by Harvard Business Review, shows that executives use equally their emotions and reason while doing strategic thinking. 
So, the best way to persuade is uniting an intellectual thought with emotions, by telling a compelling story.

In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy. The human mind, in its attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits of an experience into a story. Stories are how we understand and remember. We tend to forget bullet points.

Our clients deal a lot with stories. This is how they understand the past of the company and project the future of it. This is why I believe that storytelling is the proper language for the Big Ideas.