Imagine giving a pitch of your creative idea to your most important clients. A lump forms in your throat. For some strange reason, the mental picture of your creative idea appears in your head but your brain can’t seem to find the right words to put it across. Breaking into cold sweat, you begin to panic and desperately grasp at straws to save your presentation. Welcome to every creative’s worst nightmare.
Your clients start to frown and their puzzled faces soon mirror that of your equally confused teammates. One of your clients raises his hand and requests for you to go back to the previous slide. He didn’t manage to catch what you said. You go back and make a concerted second attempt to guide your clients through your thought process in coming up with your creative idea. Unfortunately, this attempt isn’t successful either, and your clients remain visibly lost. As you leave the room upon the conclusion of your presentation, you ask yourself what went wrong. _Was it the structure of the presentation, the fact that I didn’t use enough storytelling techniques, or simply because I suck at public speaking? _
Regardless of what it is that caused your efforts to go down the drain, know that it’s completely normal to have difficulty in articulating your creative idea to the point of crystal-clear. This is because the client is unable to see things from your point of view. When you have an idea in your head, it’s only human nature to assume that the other person is on the same page as you, which is rarely the case in reality.
I have encountered numerous situations where my clients and I were on different wavelengths. For example, when I was in Ogilvy & Mather Malaysia, we were working with a whole lot of brands. One of these was Oxy, which was for acne and pimples. For this particular brand, I came up with a story which was completely different from the usual kind of work that we were working on for the company. I was planning to create a film targeted at a younger audience and so I thought that they would be able to take more liberties.
But as it turns out, the client was only accepting a more traditional kind of film at that time. From their perspective, that’s the way the audience is and there was little room for experimentation. They told me that they could only approve of my idea if it had been thoroughly researched on. If it went into research, it ran a chance of getting killed. This was because what my idea needed most was for someone to explain it well or for it to be made into a film.
Eventually, I decided to direct the film myself. I pulled favours and got a couple of production houses involved. When I presented the end product to my clients, they loved it so much and said, let’s forgo the idea of researching it, because it’s meant for a younger audience. That’s one way of getting your client to be on the same page as you. Help them to look at it from your perspective.
Also understand that your clients may not share the same level of imagination and visualisation as you. If your client is very creative, perhaps a few lines of explanation would suffice. Otherwise, bring in your entire arsenal of storytelling tools to bring your idea to life.
Another reason why you might not be getting your ideas across might be because you are confusing execution with the creative idea itself. There are times when the two might overlap, but whenever you are working on an idea, ask yourself this: what is it about the idea that excites you? Is it the strategy you intend to execute your campaign with? Or is it the fundamental concept underpinning the campaign? An example would be the use of Instagram vertical videos to tell a first-person narration of the value of friendship. If you can’t distinguish between the two, don’t expect your clients to be able to either.
Your idea is a solution to a problem your client is facing. You’re not Picasso who’s creating a piece of art out of your love for personal expression. Hence, there must be a purpose to your idea. When you present, emphasise on this understanding of yours. Touch on what the business problem is and how your idea goes about solving the problem. Even if your teammate has presented the part about strategy or the planning, reiterate these and keep them as little markers as you present. For example, this is the target audience, this is what we are talking about and this is why our idea will work.
Why is this so crucial? This buildup is important to tell your client that you were not sitting on an island when you were coming up with your idea. Even if you have been working with your client for a long time, this step is still necessary to get your client to be on the same page as you. Help your client to realise that everything that you’ve just presented is a solution to his most pressing business problems.
Also strive to see the bigger picture. Realise that your creative idea is ultimately for the selling of your client’s product. This will in turn, affect his job performance, his promotion prospects and so on. This may sound like an over-exaggeration, but know where your idea lies in the bigger scheme of things. Go as far back as checking what the stock price of the company was a quarter ago. Find out what analysts predict it is going to be six months down the road.
Regardless of whether you are handling your investments directly or somebody else is doing it on your behalf, one tip is to purchase the shares in the company that you’re working with. In fact, that’s what I do all the time. Even if it’s a small investment, what this does is that it allows you to own a part of the company. This works wonders in helping you to articulate your idea as you now have a more concrete stake in whatever you’re presenting.
While passion may be important, curiosity and compassion are just as vital in helping you to become a better creative person. If that curiosity muscle is not present in your body, develop it. Take the initiative to explore things outside of your comfort zone. You also need to be compassionate when it comes to understanding your client’s business problems and seeing things from their perspective.
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Former Chief Creative Officer of South East and South Asia, and Vice Chairman, India