When I was just a kid in this business (I thought I'd never start a sentence using those words), I worked for a few very nice creative directors who taught me how to stand in front of a room of strangers and walk a client through a storyboard or print campaign. They taught me the details. Everything from how to hold the boards so I wasn't covering up the work to explaining the importance of clearly articulating the story through visuals and copy. They taught me what "see and say" meant. They taught me the word aspirational (although my spell check is at a loss on this one). Some even explained to me that clients love it when you paint the borders of the work to dress up the presentation. I'm not making this up. "I always kill when I do this," one creative director bragged to me as she squirted puffy paint on the boarders of her work.
I quit that job two weeks later.
The difference between those creatives and what I hoped to become was simple. I wanted to be good. The kind of work I wanted to do took courage to not only show but also to buy.
It became very clear that selling an idea would take more than a presentation. It would take a salesman. It would take more than standing in front of the client and merely showing them boards and having them smile politely as they think to themselves, "that's a nice young man, when are you going to show me the real work."
To develop the courage to stand in front of 10 strangers and ask them to invest $10 million in your sketches, creatives have to come to grips with and embrace one thing: We are salesman. Our jobs are to convince people to buy things that they may not really need. Regardless of the category, we sell ideas. We sell ads, our agencies and even ourselves. We're salesmen. It's what we are. It's what good clients want us to be.
If they had the choice between a salesman and an artist, who do you think they'd choose?
Think for a moment about what great salesmen have that the others don't. For starters you sense that you can trust them. Even if it's just a little. Maybe they warned you about a product that looks good but doesn't perform well. Or they convinced you to buy the cheaper, but just as capable, product. They have your best interest in mind. They're honest. Even if it means they don't get the huge order that day because they know they'll get it eventually.
Ironically, the best selling tool of all is listening. My dad once told me that you won't learn anything by talking. It's why God gave you two ears and one mouth. He's right. He's also one hell of a salesman. A client that feels listened to feels like he/she has a partner not just an agency.
So however you feel most comfortable standing up in front of strangers and asking for the order, take these simple words of advice. Listen. They'll appreciate you. Tell the truth. They'll trust you. Surprise them with ideas that solve their business problems. They buy what you're selling. And for goodness sakes smile. They'll smile back.
Blake Ebel oversees the creative direction of some of Euro RSCG’s most distinctive, brand-building campaigns, including Barilla, Wasa Crispbread, EFFEN Vodka, PowerShares, and Citigroup. Prior to joining Euro, Blake spent time at Young & Rubicam where he worked on Sears, Jim Beam, Orbitz.com, and The Great Indoors.
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