The greatest campaign never sold

Edelman Canada's Andrew Simon on how to convince others to get on board with your big idea.


By Andrew Simon

I hate you.

I despise you.

May a swarm of black flies feast on your flesh every day from now through eternity.

If you work at an agency, at one point or another, you’ve likely had similar thoughts when the client rejects your award-worthy work. Having shared your genius, your sure-fire chance at winning golden statuettes and industry adulation, you receive in return that oh-so lethal combination of “we’ll discuss it internally” followed approximately 24 hours later by flat-out rejection.

Sure, it’s easy to blame “ultra-conservative” clients for your failure. In fact, it can be quite cathartic to do so. But marketers have as much to gain from great campaigns as agencies do. Great work leads to great results and great results make those that are a part of it more marketable.

Selling is a team sport. It’s not just agencies selling it to marketers. It’s marketers selling it into SVPs and CEOs at their company. And it’s agencies and marketers keeping it sold in a form that’s true to the original intent.

It takes an enormous effort and belief from both parties to make this so. Yes, we can all recognize the genius of the Old Spice work. But let’s not forget that it wasn’t that long ago that agency creatives wanted absolutely nothing to do with the brand and P&G marketing managers considered it a death sentence.

It’s easy for senior clients to buy safe work. There are no sharp edges. No one has to stick her or his neck out to make it happen. But try to push the envelope among those who spend their free time studying price elasticity models and it’s a very different story. As someone who once had to do the very thing as an assistant marketing manager at General Mills in Minneapolis, I can vouch for the fact that those meetings can feel like getting your wisdom teeth pulled out through your nose.

Given all the obstacles to getting great work sold and having it see the light of day, how can we all do a better job of selling? While there isn’t enough room in this article to cover it all, having sat on both sides of the conference table, let me share a few of the biggest mistakes I see being made time and time again.

For beginners, do you really believe the creative work you’re presenting is amazing? Then for the love of all that’s holy, show it dammit! If you don’t exude passion for the work because you think it’s fantastic, why should anyone else? It floors me when I see an idea presented as if you couldn’t care less if it gets sold or not. There’s a scientific basis for what I’m talking about as scads of social psychology studies show that excitement raises levels of emotional engagement. Hollywood screenwriters know this all too well. When pitching movies to studios, they’re taught to convey why they’re pitching the material – not that they think it will make gobs of money or that it’s super cool, but why they’re so in love with the idea they’re selling.

How well do you know those you’re selling to? With all due respect to the Declaration of Independence, all men (and women) are not created equal. Truly understanding what your audience values and how they think is the name of the game. Are they hyper analytical? Do they need to see the minutia of the idea to “get it?” Do they have a healthy ego and feel like they need to put their personal stamp on everything? The more you get inside their heads, the more you can tailor your approach to what they need to hear.

And when you do get the green light, celebrate for sure, but temper your enthusiasm by remembering that until that wonderful concept is made, it still lives among the unmade. The key is keeping a fabulous idea sold. Ask the great ones, the Judy Johns of the world, and they’ll tell you how hard they work not just to bring an idea forward in a compelling way but to keep it alive in its unadulterated form versus it becoming an impotent version of its once virile self.

No matter which side of the desk you sit on, be resilient. No matter how persuasive you are, it’s impossible to have a 100% success rate. The key is how you respond when your fantastic, world-changing ideas are rejected. An incredibly talented agency creative named James Lee said something once that has stuck with me to this day. “Just because you don’t sell anything in a meeting doesn’t make it a bad meeting. It’s a bad meeting if you don’t set yourself up for bringing in even better creative for the next meeting.”

Yes, selling is hard work. But you’ll exponentially benefit from putting as much time and effort into pitching those killer ideas as coming up with them in the first place.

AndrewSimon_EdelmanAndrew Simon is ECD at Edelman Canada.