The Art of the Virtual Pitch, Part 2: Prepping the Creative Brief and Getting to Work

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on The Art of the Virtual Pitch. Let’s cover what happens after you’ve accepted the RFP, and now need to develop your pitch without the benefit of in-person meetings. There are two guiding principles to live by when drafting a creative brief to get all members of your team ready.

This is Part 2 of a four-part series on The Art of the Virtual Pitch. In Part 1, I laid out some strategies to help you cut through all the virtual noise and stand out to potential clients. Now let’s cover what happens after you’ve accepted the RFP, and need to develop your pitch without the benefit of in-person meetings. There are two guiding principles to live by when drafting a creative brief to get all members of your team ready to brainstorm:

Principle No. 1: Invest Your Time in Organizing

Now that you don’t have the luxury to kick things off in person, it’s critical to have documents to keep people aligned. You need to spell out roles and responsibilities, and create a work plan with clear owners and assignments for each deliverable. You’ll also need a new way to handle onboarding a bunch of different folks.

Instead of picking up the phone again and again to launch into your onboarding spiel, devote your time to developing a robust creative brief. In one document, you lay out:

  • all the relevant research,
  • the problems you’re trying to solve,
  • the details of the RFP, and
  • anything else you don’t want to find yourself repeating ad nauseam.

This briefing document becomes the foundation for briefing people moving forward and gives you the landscape analysis you need to craft the insight that will be the jumping-off point for your strategy.

A thorough creative brief gets everyone marching in the right direction, but the toughest element of pitch development to pull off in an all-remote setting is brainstorming, which brings me to my second principle.

Principle No. 2: Don’t Treat Virtual Meetings Like In-Person Meetings

We’ve all been at brainstorming sessions when many or all attendees are calling in to a conference line. The remote brainstorm is nothing new. It’s just that actually doing them effectively and ensuring participation is still really difficult.

Leverage that creative brief you already worked on! Everyone should have it well in advance, and they need to be held accountable for really knowing it. This isn’t just another email attachment in a meeting invite. It’s what everyone will be working from, and it’s absolutely required reading for every meeting.

In fact, successful virtual brainstorming generally requires the team to put more time than usual into meeting prep. Exercises that you’d normally depend on teams to do together in meetings, you might now have to have people do in advance. To help quickly ideate on a bunch of different things, give people two to three action items to brainstorm against on their own. They can present those ideas in a conference call, and the team can build from there instead of starting the call from the ground up.

Also consider assigning more structured brainstorming exercises in advance. One of my personal favorites is called “Pass It Along.” Here’s how it works: When I’m working on those big multi-million dollar pitches, I set up four to five teams consisting of four to five people each, and they have their own mini brainstorm.

First, one person writes down the germ of an idea. Then the second person builds on it, making it even bigger. The third person goes wild, making it so big they could get fired. Then, the last person brings the idea back down to being realistic. This approach forces the big, bold thinking you need. Later, the groups can present their hero idea to the larger group, which jumpstarts your process.

Adjust your brainstorming process to follow my two principles for virtual pitch development and you’ll have a winning deck in no time.

Next time, I want to discuss the finer points of presenting online and helping your team’s chemistry shine through. If you have questions about the art of the virtual pitch, tweet me @RumEkhtiar.

 

 

3 Marketing Resolutions for 2017

Happy New Year, marketers! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break, and are ready to jump into 2017 full of creative ideas and new initiatives. But unlike those of us who are vowing to hit the gym five times a week and really start eating healthy (cough, cough), I hope you’re prepared to not fall off the marketing resolution band wagon. Or at least avoid tumbling off if you’re realistic.

Happy New Year, marketers! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break, and are ready to jump into 2017 full of creative ideas and new initiatives.

Parks & Rec ResolutionsBut unlike those of us who are vowing to hit the gym five times a week and really start eating healthy (cough, cough), I hope you’re prepared to not fall off the marketing resolution band wagon. Or at least avoid tumbling off if you’re realistic.

To help you out, here are three marketing resolutions I think every marketer can benefit from in 2017.

1. Stop Saying ‘That’s Not Possible’

Now, this isn’t saying “yes” to more things (though that’s not a bad thing to practice on a personal level). Marketing departments are regularly told to do more with less, to be creative but mind the budget, blah blah blah. So much so, that sometimes it’s easier to just say “That’s not possible,” than to spend some time brainstorming how to make a good idea a reality.

Well knock it off.

Instead, if an idea seems like it could have legs, give it a little time and attention. Map out what it would truly cost, monetarily and resource-wise, ask if your team has the skills to pull it off, and then look at ways to tweak it so that it could work with your budget and staff. If at that point it still seems out of reach, THEN set it aside, but don’t trash it for good. You never know what could happen down the road that could allow that “impossible” idea to become something of genius.

2. Think Before You Tweet, Post, Snap

I have waaaaaaaay more to say on this topic in this week’s upcoming “What Were They Thinking?” episode, but until then, let me recommend a simple resolution: Just because your brand has a presence on social media does not mean your brand needs to comment on all current events. 2016 saw way too many social media fails when it came to brands sharing tributes to celebrities who had died, and I’d love it if 2017 could avoid that faux pas.

If you’re a social media manager for a brand and have something to share that maybe isn’t relevant coming from your brand, then don’t. Instead, share it from your personal account, unrelated to who you work for.

3. Get Better at Meetings

This resolution is near and dear to my soul … just ask any of my colleagues. When I come in Monday morning and review my weekly calendar and see an endless string of meetings throughout the week, well, needless to say there’s some grumbling and sometimes some salty language, depending on what my to-do list looks like.

Don’t get me wrong: Meetings are often extremely useful and can get a project moving in the right direction straight out of the starting gate. But they can also be annoying time-sucks that leave you wondering what the heck just happened.

So what can you do? Well, think twice before scheduling a meeting with multiple people. Is it something that could be discussed casually first, before bringing together a larger group? Or maybe you just need 10 minutes to bounce some ideas off someone before taking your idea to the next level? Then you don’t need to schedule a meeting, especially one that might just be a “kickoff” to a series of longer, more in-depth gatherings.

Respect your time, and respect the time of your colleagues by doing the prep in advance. Trust me, they’ll love you for it.

Liz Lemon Let's Do ThisWell, those are my three suggested resolutions for you marketers … what do you think? Leave me a comment below with some of your own professional resolutions!

 

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Your Next Big Idea…

It’s peak stargazing week, with the Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years. Which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

Perseids 2012
Perseid Shower Radiant: Image shows several Perseid meteors — eight in all if you look closely for faint ones. Image courtesy of Paul Beskeen Astrophotography

It’s peak stargazing week. The Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years, which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

So where do you look? How can spot them, or spark a few of your own?

Break Out Your Telescopes

By that, I mean look at problems with a different lens. Ideally, one with a long-range view. Too often when faced with a marketing challenge, we only see what’s right in front of us. Many will fixate on small details, forgetting that most customers aren’t so focused on BRCs, Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors or the metrics of SEO. (All of which are important, but first things first! Think bigger.)

Example: A creative director colleague — Jon Harcharek — was developing a campaign for Café Bustelo. Popular among Latino Americans, the brand wanted to attract a broader audience but worried they’d compromise its “authenticity” by advertising on English-speaking stations.

Cafe Bustelo adHarcharek’s solution: Air the same ad on all networks, Hispanic or otherwise. Those watching Telemundo saw promotions in their native tongue. Anglo viewers were surprised to see a Spanish-speaking commercial break during Breaking Bad, but early adopters were curious and sought out the “new” coffee at supermarkets.

See The Possibilities

Our ancestors saw bulls, rams and scorpions in the sky. One of them probably said, “This may sound crazy, but that looks like a lion to me.”

There may have also been a department manager who said “No, they’re just dots. Get back to work.” The point is to make indirect connections, not just straight-line conclusions. Look beyond the first right answer. And during the idea-generation stage, avoid “no-it-alls” — those who say no to every imaginative thought.

Think like Aristotle: As one of the world’s first astronomers, he believed “When you ask a dumb question, you get a smart answer.” Which inspired more great thinkers to ask “Why have we always done it that way?” It’s the elementary questions followed up by a dozen more penetrating ones that often yield results.

Whether you’re asking clients “Is this really the smartest way to spend your marketing budget” or “Why can’t this mailing look like it came from the government?” it’s okay to be dumb sometimes. Like a fox.

Kansas Tree SurveySeek other intelligent life: Give your initial idea to someone else and see where it goes. At my agency, we call that “brain-chaining” where another creative person takes ownership of a concept and builds on it. Then another “trained brain” might twist it, rearranging headlines or graphic design.

Try This Exercise

At the beginning of a brainstorm meeting, have everyone write down their first thoughts on a 3”x 5” index card. Just a sentence or simple sketch. Then collect the cards, shuffle and hand them out again. Whatever you get, your job is to make them better. Improvise. Suggest a different way to execute it.  There are NO bad ideas. Yet you’ll be surprised how many good ones happen.

The heavens are limitless, but your timeframe shouldn’t be: Like this week’s meteor showers, you only have a small moment when the stars and moons align. Brainstorms are the same way. They’re actually more productive when you give yourself a deadline.

So look up. Keep your eyes wide open, and explore while you can. Your wishes just might come true!

Balancing Act: 10 Steps for Optimal Creativity and Strategy

It’s really hard in a business environment to be strategic and not be creative at the same time — and the reverse is also true. Strategy and creativity are interrelated and interdependent forces that feed and support each other. Recognizing that duality is crucial to your success.

Yin and YangIt’s really hard in a business environment to be strategic and not be creative at the same time — and the reverse is also true. Strategy and creativity are interrelated and interdependent forces that feed and support each other. Recognizing that duality is crucial to your success.

Strategic endeavors plot a course from your current state to your desired state. This requires you to change the way you are doing things to chart a novel and thoughtful path to your future. Unless your desired state is just a near version of your current state you must think creatively to evoke change.

Creativity exists when you fashion something new and valuable. In a business setting, value is generated when you create something that supports your business goals, i.e., it is strategic. But, if you are being creative without a strategic approach and plan you can easily spin off in unrelated directions. Those unproductive efforts may be dangerous to your brand, long term organizational health and ultimately your ability to stay on your charted course. It’s those ideas that aren’t connected to strategy that make us scratch our heads and label them #FAIL.

Why then, do some marketers persist in putting their creative and strategic efforts in separate categories, approaching them sequentially or assigning them to different teams? Making them separate or serial efforts defeats the complementary and interconnected flow of ideas that can flourish in a collaborative exertion. This may be a legacy of old thinking and outdated organizational structures.

Creativity and strategy reside in all aspects of our work and are not the exclusive province of those with it in their job title or department. We’ve seen phenomenal ideas emerge from creative teams, but have also witnessed amazing creative and strategic thinking from media planners or technology teams, among others, in solving problems or recommending solutions that create client value. Given the chance, most people have ideas and want to contribute. If you suppress that opportunity, morale can be impacted. Plus, you lose out on all those good ideas.

If we tether strategy and creativity together (as they should be) we achieve the best results. The most amazing creative campaigns are unfailingly strategic. The notable turnarounds or disruptive launches that drive true organizational change result from creative thinking. Yin and Yang.