My day-job requires me to mentor new planners. I usually summarize the sessions on a note and post it here as an installment of the “planning communication strategy for beginners” series. I hope one day this series can be published as a textbook, both in Indonesian and English.
Few months ago, I came across a rather depressing article about why creative ideas often get rejected, even though we crave for creativity. The article is based from an academic paper that reports the finding from two experimental studies. I highlight the most relevant ones for this post:
- Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable
- People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical —tried and true.
Proposing a creative or break-through idea is tough everywhere, and now we have scientific evidence for it. But this should not become the excuse of communication agencies to stop pushing the creative boundary. In fact, this only puts a greater urgency for agencies to improve their skills to sell and defend their creative proposals.
Obviously, planners and strategists should also bear this responsibility. We are expected to convince clients that the creative idea being proposed by the agency is based from rigorous thinking and solid data, and has a big potency to solve the clients’ specific problems.
Being able to explain the idea we want to sell clearly and briefly is the essential first step (discussed here), but it’s not enough. We have to package this idea into a persuasive short presentation.
(Yes, “short” needs to be emphasised because firstly, clients’ attention span is always limited. Secondly, agency’s work is rarely if ever the most important part of their jobs).
I have written a short e-book on how to write the content of persuasive presentations (you can download it for free, here). It’s not specifically written for the context of agency’s creative proposal presentations to clients, but the same principles and steps apply.
I would like to highlight three principles:
- We present to convey one key message. This key message must be about why or how our proposal is the best option to solve the client’s specific problem.
- Presentations should adopt the classic story structure. In other words, we should structure our presentation like a story. Human beings are hardwired to pay attention to and remember stories.
- Using slide-maker software (PowerPoint or Keynote) should be the last thing you do when writing presentation content. You will save a tremendous amount of time and energy if you plan the content in analog. Planning the content in analog also helps you to focus.
I will elaborate more on the classic story structure. In the classic story structure, a story is broken down into 3 acts:
- Act 1 introduces when and where the story takes place, and who the protagonist is (or protagonists are). Then an incidence happens, and this gives the protagonist a challenge.
- Act 2 is about the trials and tribulations the protagonist has to overcome to complete the challenge.
- Act 3 is where we find out if the protagonist succeeds or fails to complete the challenge. This is about climax and resolution.
Let’s adopt this structure into the context of agency’s creative proposal presentation.
The key to persuasive presentation is that it focuses on the audience, not the presenter. It’s about “what the audience should remember, feel, or do”, not about “what the presenter should say or show” (presentation is a form of communication so of course the basic principles of communication planning apply).
This is why Act 1 should frame the audience as the protagonist. In Act 1 we remind them about their situation and challenge. If we start this way, we start with something they agree on, and this is always a recommended place to begin a presentation.
Act 1 consists of several elements. You have to spell out each of them:
The baseline situation
Start with the client’s “before” situation, and make sure every member of the audience will agree. Data from client’s brief can be useful.
- “Under the almost monopolistic market structure, Brand X has been dominating the market for the last 10 years.”
- “Brand Y is planning to launch a cheaper variant to recruit new consumers who previously see us as unaffordable.”
- “For years, Brand Z has been trailing as a runner-up behind the rival Brand Q that overspends us by 2 times.”
This is the incidence that disrupts the baseline situation. It can be something they incite themselves (e.g. a new initiative) or externally driven (e.g. competitor’s action or new regulation).
Following the above examples:
- “Next year, the government will introduce a new regulation that opens up aggressive competitions against Brand X.”
- “Our competitive intelligence indicates that our rival has planned to launch a new variant that will be cheaper than Brand Y’s new variant.”
- “The R&D department has invented a new technology that may make Brand Z become the smart-phone with the longest battery life ever.”
As stated before, the incidence (complication) brings clients to face a challenge. Now we are going to write that challenge as a question.
Following the above examples:
- “How can we make consumers actively prefer us, beyond simply lack of other options?”
- “How can we make consumers with limited buying power feel good about choosing our new variant that’s the more expensive?”
- “How can we enthuse consumers about our battery life with a budget that’s a tiny fraction of our competitor’s?”
Lastly, you immediately introduce the answer to that question. Of course, that answer should refer to the core of your proposed solution alias your creative idea.
Yes, we are introducing the core of our proposal or the creative idea early in the presentation? In fact, we should not postpone it till the near end. This is because clients’ attention span is limited and it’s our duty to keep them interested.
The fact that we are explaining our creative idea quite early should make us realize how utterly important it is to come up with a very clear and compelling description of the idea.
Although in the flow of the real presentation Act 2 comes in the middle, I strongly recommend that when developing the presentation content, we start first with Act 2.
Act 2 should show how our proposed solution (creative idea) will help the clients (the protagonist) meet their challenge.
This is how you build your Act 2:
- Look back at the description of your creative idea (written as Answer in Act 1)
- Imagine yourself as the clients and then ask tough questions they will ask about it. For example, “What does it mean?”, “How does it look like?”, “How does it work?”, “Why is it better than the other (safer, time-tested) alternative?”, and so on.
- For each question, write its answer in the form of an assertion. Of course one question can have more than one answer, so you can have few assertions to address clients’ doubt or question.
- Depending on the question, you need to give evidence (e.g. statistics, anecdotal examples, or credible endorsement) or explanation (e.g. metaphors or analogies to render new concepts familiar, or diagrams to visualize process, relationships, or complex concepts) to support your each assertion.
This is where we rephrase the Challenge and Answer from Act 1. We do this to reassure the clients that our proposed solution will help them complete their challenge. If needed, you can also give a call-to-action to your clients (e.g. “Let’s take emotional persuasion route to make consumers prefer Brand Q”). Obviously the call-to-action should link closely to Answer from Act 1.
Once you’ve finished building the presentation content in analog (I recommend using sticky notes for each part), rearrange the parts by following this diagram:
After this, you can start thinking about developing a storyboard for the presentation flow if you plan to use slide show as the visual aid.
Why should we develop a storyboard first, instead of jumping ahead to PowerPoint or Keynote? Two reasons:
- We will be able to see the bigger picture or the overarching presentation narrative and not get lost with slides after slides
- We will save time
Few things to remember when you’re developing the storyboard:
- One idea per slide
- Never, ever use any of your slide as your reading note or as a teleprompter. If you do, you will deliver a very boring presentation that will harm your creative proposal
- The less slides we use, the better
Once you’ve get your storyboard, then you can start using PowerPoint and Keynote to create each slide and build the slide show.
I hope this long post help you to sell your creative ideas better. I will follow this one with a post on defending your creative proposals.