Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

How to sell a big idea

Published in Mar-Apr 2017
Why teamwork is essential for conceptualising and executing great ideas.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

If you have heard of “sell or else”... here are some stories of when you face the “or else” question.

There used to be a time when I would look at an ad and think: “Wow how did they come up with that!” Today, I look at them and think: “Wow, how the hell did they sell that?!”

I am not alone in thinking about the process behind the sale, rather than the process behind the creation. I foolishly believe that I get the process of creation; the familiar fear of staring at a blank page and crossing out the most obvious thoughts first; the whole ‘honing the ideas until they take shape and carving the horse out of the tree.’ But then, how do you sell them?

I once had the pleasure of meeting Piyush Panday, Chairman and National Creative Director, Ogilvy India; he is the creator of masterpieces such as the Fevicol ads, the Cadbury Dairy Milk’s ‘Kutch Meetha Ho Jaye’ campaign and many, many more.

For two days, I tried following him around like a dog. The questions were always, how did you sell that one or how did you make this one happen? He had wonderful stories to share and I still marvel at his genius and salesmanship. Being naïve, I ended up thinking: “Nah, he just has smarter clients who acknowledge his genius (he has won more than 600 awards while I have none) and I sit across a bunch of blind mice. How stupid of me. One thing Panday said hit home: “Remember, resistance is normal. So don’t get demoralised, get smart.”

But how do you get smart? Telling myself in the mirror that I am smart and I can do this didn’t help (yes I tried that). My reflection kept making the ‘are-you-the-stupidest-person-on-earth’ face at me. Not willing to give up, I turned to my best friends; books.

The most valuable book I found on the subject was called How to Get Your Ideas Adopted And Change The World, by the brilliant inventor Anne Miller. The book explains how to prepare your ideas and your outlook in order to give yourself the best chance of success. The book also reveals the secrets of overcoming the critical stages of resistance; the more creative the idea, the more the resistance. Below is a summary of three of the stages:

Blind

In the first stage of resistance, people literally don’t see the idea, because they are paying attention to other things that seem more important, and so ideas that don’t seem relevant then are filtered out and ignored. When people are in this stage, a crisis can be helpful because it opens their eyes to the need for change (like the credit crunch opened the banking community’s eyes to the structural risks they had been ignoring when business was booming).

Frozen

In the second stage of resistance, people are aware of the need for change (or the idea), but are insufficiently motivated to act, and so come up with excuses, such as “it’s too risky, or “too expensive” or “not my priority.” People are ‘frozen’ about the idea because they are afraid that (apart from any personal point of view) the costs of change outweigh the need to change. These costs include financial costs, but also psychological factors like “how much effort will I have to put in to assess this idea?” or “will I look stupid if it doesn’t work?”

Interested

In this stage, people are at last interested in hearing more about the idea, so the creator will be asked to explain it. This should be their big opportunity to share their excitement, but surprisingly often, they have been so ground down by the resistance they faced in stage two that they downplay the idea in an attempt to make it seem less risky, and then go on to bore the audience stiff with long-winded discussions about the detail; like camera angles, edit references, etc. Unfortunately, this is often counterproductive, because the audience promptly decides that the upside doesn’t justify the investment. The creator is much more likely to get a good reception if he or she can explain in a few words (nine is a good target) why the idea is exciting and will help the brand. There will always be areas of uncertainty and risk, but they can often be put to one side by discussing how to deal with them.


I am not alone in thinking about the process behind the sale, rather than the process behind the creation. I foolishly believe that I get the process of creation; the familiar fear of staring at a blank page and crossing out the most obvious thoughts first; the whole ‘honing the ideas until they take shape and carving the horse out of the tree.’


I witnessed this first hand when I saw the CD from Ogilvy India presenting and representing the work for Shan Masala. He sold and he sold and he sold, but never did he mention the camera angles, the music, the jingle. All those details came later. He told stories and showed empathy towards the objectives of the client – and this is one area most creators and sellers get wrong. Why? Because half the time we don’t even think or care about the client’s objectives. I am not talking about the objectives stated in the project brief. What needs to be taken into account is why the decision makers are doing what they are doing. Are they looking for a raise or are they doing this for their CV? Will it solve an office politics problem or is it genuinely aimed to help the brand. As we don’t stop to ask such questions, we are often stumped by rejection. Understanding the dynamics could make or break a project and this is where a solid client-service team comes into play.

While developing the Mr Bean concept for HBL at JWT, I had the best team standing right with me. Fawad Parvaiz, the Planner, who carved a beautiful big idea and the Account Director, Fawad Akhter Ali (may he rest in peace) and the outstanding Art Director Shahnawaz Khan. Without this team, an idea like Mr Bean for a bank as lofty as HBL, would not have even made it to the first round. And the biggest reason it saw the light of day was the client, Farah Sayeed and the CMO Aly Mustansir who gave us the ultimate brief and risked their necks. We had to present the same idea to many levels at the bank and because the team stood behind it, we persevered. If I was the only one who believed in the idea, it would have been another ‘could have been’.

So, if you want to sell great ideas, get a team behind you. You won’t get anywhere if you choose to walk alone.

Atiya Zaidi is Executive Creative Director (North), Synergy Dentsu. atiya.zaidi@synergydentsu.com