The Suit: How on earth am I going to sell this?
by Jason Harrison. There comes a time in every suit’s life when you think, “How on earth am I going to sell this?” This is followed by a quick succession of reasons why it has to be wrong: The client will never buy this. The client doesn’t have the budget. The client just wants a TV ad. The client is wanting to finalise their brand plan first. The client. The client. The client.
Perhaps the client isn’t the problem at all?
Logic is easy to agree with — especially if it’s obvious or doesn’t present any significant leaps. But the leap from logic to magic is one of the scariest things in agency life. The truth is we’re completely ill-prepared to make the jump from seeing an idea written down for the first time to imagining the final execution in the end. That is because the bravest ideas never follow a template of what has come before. There are no reference points. No proven case studies. No guaranteed results. The long arc of the bridge from logic to magic almost always fades into an impenetrable and unnerving mist.
From logic to magic
Every year I go through the Cannes Lions winners and think, “How on earth did they sell that idea?” Try it for yourself: Imagine for a moment that you were reviewing the one-line ideas below and think about how you would have taken your client (and yourself) down the terror curve. How would you have crafted the story to create demand for the idea? How would you have sparked the imagination of what the idea could deliver for their business?
Then watch the attached links for what the final execution of the idea turned out to be:
- Food retailer: “We are going to break the law and sell illegal, black market fruits and vegetables in our retail outlets to prove a point to an overly legislated government.”
- Burger company: “We are going to build a geo-locating app that turns over 14 000 of our competitors stores into sales opportunities for our own brand.”
- Travel agency: “We are going to jump on a racist hashtag and use it in a positive way to get people to travel overseas and see the real thing.”
- National newspaper: “We are going to print a blank newspaper so that the people of the country can write their own messages to politicians to force action in government.”
These creative ideas are new, fresh and scary so the “risk” is big, but the “reward” is that they are the ones most likely to get noticed and make a huge impact on their intended audiences. As a suit, when you have one to sell, it’s the most powerful and exciting position to be in.
So, how do you make the leap?
1. A shared ambition
Burger King and its global advertising agency have a shared ambition called “Hackvertising”. It’s a clear approach to how they want the brand to show up. They jump on cultural or contextual trends and make an inordinate amount of work, together. Their partnership has a huge degree of trust baked in and they share responsibility for all the work (good or bad), which removes fear. And, without fear, the impenetrable mist becomes far less scary. It’s really important to align on the type of work you want to make together.
2. A matter of taste
When I was a kid, we used to have Ricoffy in the cupboard; then, when I went on family road trips, I tasted my first “fancy coffee” at the Wimpy in Riversdale; post-Y2K, I was coolly ordering a “flat white” at the first Vida E Caffé on Kloof Street, Cape Town; now I struggle through the hipsters to get a millennial-endorsed cup of joe at what has twice been voted “The World’s Best Coffee Shop”: Truth Coffee. To shift our taste buds, we need to move along the taste continuum.
Creative work is exactly the same. Our taste improves the more of the good stuff we consume, so discuss great work with your client weekly.
3. Talk about ideas, not executions
There is one sure way to kill a good idea on the spot… surprise. It still baffles me that our industry takes a brief, goes away for a few weeks and then comes back with the beautiful silver cloche of surprise. Great ideas need to be interrogated, nurtured and built together. Internally. Externally. Informally. And only once the idea is totally understood should the innumerable ways to execute it be debated. Make the time to talk about the core idea.
~ • ~ •~
Beautifully simple solutions are easy to rationalise with the perfect science of hindsight. But, in a world that is becoming increasingly confusing, cluttered and fragmented, brave has to be the new normal. It’s your job to make sure the future takes less of a leap of faith than everyone thinks.
Jason Harrison started as a 23-year-old account executive at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to London five years later to run three agency teams in three different European countries. He joined his old mates again in 2011 as one of the founding partners of the M&C Saatchi Group at 33. He believes that creating beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world will, in fact, save the world. His MarkLives column, “The Suit” is about inspiring and helping up-and-coming suits to be better at their craft. He is no longer on Twitter.