business-presentation
“Employing Steff’s system improved my presentations…and my life!”

I learned how to present creative ideas (mine and those belonging to others) by watching the best of the best and modeling my game accordingly. At Leo Burnett, we typically competed (if that’s the right word) with other teams within our creative group, during internal meetings and even in front of clients. As for agency recommendations, if a client preferred another idea or disliked the hero, the tables would turn. This happened all the time. Still does. I learned that sometimes, as in a horse race, it’s almost better not to be the frontrunner. In any event, every presentation was a golden opportunity. They still are.

Every presentation is also a trial by fire but some fires burn hotter than others. Therefore, when you have an internal meeting, this is when you audition your presentation. This is when you consider your narrative. Am I aligning my pitch with the strategy deck? Are my pieces in the right order? You can get away with mistakes, especially if you acknowledge them. Own your presentation and learn how to course correct.

Don’t ramrod through your blunders. Tell your work family that you value their criticism and are hell bent on being solid for the client. Easier said than done. But it’s good advice.

In either case, observe other presenters as much as their work. Consider their performances with the eyes of a client. Take notes. The night before a presentation I often wrote down what I thought I should say. I obsessed over it. Being prepared, my confidence grew rapidly.

When my turn came to face a client, I held up my notes and told them this meeting was too important for me to wing it, that the creative was too good for risking an adlibbed, tangential preamble. By making fun of myself I could brag about the work. I owned my nerves instead of trying to hide them. There are few bigger fails than when the nervous feign otherwise. It is like trying not to look stoned when you so unquestionably are. You fool nobody and project discomfort to your audience. Tell folks you are nervous because you care. It’s the truth. And it’s a gateway to excellent technique.

You have visual aids that have been slaved over. Make them the hero. Not you. Show and tell the work. This is your priority. Over time you can begin to incorporate your personality. Chances are, this will happen organically. But never go about it the other way around. Eventually, when you’re a creative director, certain new demands will be put upon you. Until then, bide your time, aiming for sincerity and competence. Confidence will follow. It almost always does.

Practice humility like this until you become comfortable on your feet, enough to show some swagger. Even now, I am perfectly fine working from notes. Eye contact is overrated. Chemistry in a meeting is different than on a date. Your sex appeal is secondary. You can be a nerd here and win. How the hell do you think I succeeded?

The Walking Dead, saison 1
We’ve opened Pandora’s box…

The Walking Dead season finale contained one of the most violent scenes I’ve witnessed in a film of any kind and it didn’t involve zombies at all. A ruthless gang of survivors had the protagonists of the series dead to rights. And then the heroes turned the tables, eliciting vile payback. Rick bit open the throat of his captor and then guts the heathen who was about to rape his son. More death. Like that.

The previous week’s episode featured the entirely unexpected murder of a young girl, who’d lost her mind and killed her sister trying to prove that her subsequent “turning” would be evidence that the undead were, what, normal? These episodes were brutal, nihilistic and, basically amazing.

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The living people have become the walking dead themselves. They move forward killing everything in their paths, like zombies. The flicker of hope for humanity grows ever more dim. It’s barely there.

During a commercial break (yes, I watched the network broadcast) was a preview of a sequel to The Purge, a film about legalized crime including (and especially) murder. I didn’t see the original movie but enough people did to warrant a sequel.

Then came a Hyundai spot where you can build your own zombie killing car. Benign in terms of mayhem the spot is meant to be funny. I suppose…

My, oh my. So many visions of the Apocalypse! We Are What We Are is the title of a film about modern day cannibals, itself a remake of a Spanish film about people eaters.

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Read it with the lights on…

I’ve been a horror fan since I can remember. The first real book I ever read for “fun” was Salem’s Lot. As a boy I thrilled at Hammer’s vision of the undead. Christopher Lee’s Dracula and his gory sexy brides formed my world view –or at least provided lurid escape from the sketchy real world: my parent’s divorce, step-father’s suicide, gang-bangers on every corner, teachers that didn’t give a shit, friends who had it worse than me and acted accordingly.

By comparison, fictional evil was somehow… attractive.

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Lee’s Dracula and friend. What’s not to like?

For me, hanging out with miscreants on the street corner was far more threatening. Pretending not to be scared in real life was a lot harder than bearing monsters in books and on screen. Enduring evermore-gruesome fictions was (and is) a way for a young man to demonstrate courage. It’s a theory.

And now you feel it don’t you? The mainstream embraces horror like never before, as I did as a teenager and still do. In films, books, comics, games, television, music and even commercials. Always profitable but formerly seedy, the horror genre has risen from the grave!

You have become like me, God have mercy on your souls.

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Just add hot water…

Time for a true and funny story and, as it happens, the learning of one my new favorite phrases: Chocolate Teapot. What the hell is a chocolate teapot you ask? I’ll get to that. But first the story…

Partly because of my agency’s history and also our Bay Area location, at gyro we handle a lot of technology clients. On our roster we have some of the biggest tech firms in the world and just as many small. All of them are dear to us. The big ones keep us honest. The small ones keep us sharp. Or is it the other way around? Suffice to say, we are fortunate for having all of them.

Like any agency, when a RFI (Request for Information) and/or RFP (Request for Proposal) comes over the transom we quickly assemble the management team to see if the company would be a good fit –for both parties. Like any agency, we are reluctant to pass on new business. It happens. But usually we at least opt to meet the prospect.

A while back a query arrived from the new CMO of a technology company based in New Zealand. The fellow was planning on expanding operations in the US and was looking for an agency to help him to it. Without naming names, his company did have credibility as a going concern in its country of origin. The business model intrigued us. We scheduled a meeting.

So the guy comes in. He’s a nice enough person and the senior members of the agency carved out two hours for credentials and conversation. We had coffee service and bagels and everybody was up for the meeting. After going through our “creds” we got into the man’s business, talked strategy and outlined various scenarios we thought might be of interest to him. A spirited and fun discussion followed.

Somewhere along the way the man uttered the expression “chocolate teapot” as in ‘the website was as useful as a chocolate teapot.’ I’d never heard the expression and neither had my colleagues. We all appreciated the poetry of it. Pour hot water into a chocolate teapot. Useless!

Two hours go by and the man is completely engaged –a good thing- so we all silently agreed to go over our allotted time. About three hours in our Managing Director steered the conversation to the sensitive topic of budget. We rightly assumed we had a willing prospect and besides, at that point, what else are we going to discuss?

This charming, bespectacled New Zealander replied, “I have five or six thousand dollars to play with.”

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You should have seen our faces. Our smiles looked like they had been carved out by a plastic surgeon. Not to be crass but if one added up the salaries in the room and multiplied them by three hours we’d already eclipsed that number. With politeness we resolutely ended our meeting.

Afterward, one of us joked: “Well, that was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.” Though thankfully seldom used, the phrase became part of our vocabulary. Which, I guess, is the icing on the teapot.

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Like a Cat 5 in NY…

I’m writing this on a malfunctioning computer attached to a malfunctioning human being on the long flight to San Francisco from New York. Regarding my computer: Upon pulling a wad of printouts off a table in the “war room” my laptop fell to the hard, wooden floor. I thought it had survived but now I’m not so sure. All my web pages keep opening up in extreme grandpa close-up. And while this does make my tired eyes happy it is also causing pandemonium on my desktop. I highlight this banal fact primarily to segue into my postmortem post on my pitch in NY, or PMPMP.

Quite a week. Or was it two? Without naming the client, three of gyro’s offices (including mine in San Francisco) participated in a whirlwind global pitch in New York. Hardly my first rodeo but by any standard this pitch was a doozy, replete with all-nighters and lost weekends on both coasts -pretty much everything you’d expect from just such an activity.

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“I’ll kick your ass for putting down my work!”

Except, remarkably, for fighting. Given how many sleep-deprived Type-A’s were involved I’d have expected more clashing and scheming. I’m not saying we were saints but I’ve seen these pressure cookers go off like dynamite in a microwave. Didn’t happen. Not to be a homer, but maybe there is something to this “Uno” culture we talk about at gyro.

Cut to Friday, when we delivered a big, careening hurricane of people and ideas. Prior to that, the pressure had been building all week and as the first bands rippled through our offices the energy became palpable: people running around, printing docs, yelling into phones. Then when the client finally came off that elevator: total quiet. In the eye now. Hush. The adrenaline crackling like electricity… kaboom! 90 minutes of full-on energy. The pitch.

And then, just like that, it’s over…

A bit later, sitting in the cab to JFK, I find myself feeling depressed. Not because we did a bad job. Frankly, I think we killed it. So why? Did I miss the crazy camaraderie? The caffeinated late night writing sessions? The crap take-out? My colleagues?

That’s part of it. One can’t help but develop a corps d’esprit. But there’s also a strange sadness that isn’t so easy to describe. My business partner calls it “post pitch depression.” It’s a perfect name for it. After all, we’d gone through a protracted labor and given birth to three ideas (triplets!) in front of parents who may or may not even want them!! Intense!!!

Understandably, I am spent and a little shell-shocked. I don’t drink alcohol anymore but I most certainly would if I could.

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She liked her captors, too.

A pitch is a force of nature. For all of the stress and pain it causes, they also create a Stockholm Syndrome among the participants (me anyway).

I don’t want it to end even though I desperately want it to end. I love my teammates even though I want to kill them. Weird shit like that. Post pitch depression. I’ll get over it. And there will always be another.

Weird yes but “we are not alone.”

I don’t know which ad agency, if any, created this ad for Facebook but I “like” it. A lot. In the news –somewhat controversially- for spending enough money to bail out Greece on a texting application, it’s nice to see Facebook doing a bit of image advertising that’s just plain fun.

Not that Facebook needs to build awareness but they could use a bit of freshening and, for me, spots like this do it. Instead of marketing some new feature, Facebook goes old school (how ironic is that?) and comes through with advertising about the very thing that made Facebook cool in the first place: community.

In this case it’s people who dig Sci-Fi. We see a bunch of geeks sporting costumes of their favorite Martians just being real and that’s about it. We hear the iconic theme music from 2001 A Space Odyssey. And then the wonderful tagline: “We Are Not Alone.”

It’s a great line. Clever in the obvious way it pays off the concept. Smart because it deftly highlights the original magic of social media (and Facebook in particular): the fact that there are a few billion people on earth and each one of us possesses interests and passions that both unifies and differentiates us.

Even if you like the spot, you could argue Facebook has no call to advertise. By definition, its users do that with every post.

Yet, I do think it’s time for some advertising. Not to get more users per se but to build its brand with all of us who do use it. Most of us aren’t going anywhere. But some of us are. Moreover, living on Facebook has become somewhat of a chore. We dutifully post images of our families and link content to our friends but the magic has subsided. Some of us have grown weary of the ritual.

And that’s what I like about this commercial the most. It reminds me of when going on Facebook was fun.

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