Getting Past the Gatekeeper
Selling your pitch to the powers-that-be
by David C. Baker
As a creative community, we have a real problem on our hands. Its roots extend back many years, but never before have we risked this degree of marginalization. At its core, the problem is that your client’s decision-maker (the Decider), is no longer someone you can talk to. For a variety of reasons, Deciders have increasingly pushed communications downward to Gatekeepers in the marketing department. Intentional or not, this sends out an alarming message: “What you are doing doesn’t matter enough for me to spend my time with you directly.”
And it should be alarming, because Gatekeepers, who are now in a position to impact your relationship with the company, have a relatively low level of skill and experience. They often don’t know the basic principles of marketing strategy, nor how long projects take, how much they cost, nor what sort of disruption any given request can create. Early on in a client relationship, the Decider is often bypassed entirely and Gatekeepers make decisions on their own—essentially divining the Decider’s feedback, without verification, and passing that along to you as if it has been vetted and approved. Hiding behind the wishes of the Decider, they tend to offer terrible advice, often with devastating consequences.
THE RE-PRESENTATION DILEMMA
By far the most significant problem comes later in the process, when the Gatekeeper re-presents your work to the Decider. This is not a true presentation; like a dictation machine on high-speed playback, the Gatekeeper simply parrots your ideas to the Decider, without grasping the underpinnings of your recommendations, unable to answer any questions that dive below the surface. In fact, the entire re-presentation may be summarized or shortened, depriving the Decider of essential data with which to make a decision in the best interests of the company. The re-presentation lacks all emotive power and is anything but compelling. Thus the feedback you get from the Decider, if you actually get any, is not really all that useful: “Make it edgier.” “There’s too much implied movement in the foreground.” Or worse: “Let’s use the photo in #3, the text in #2, and the colors from #4.” Sound familiar?
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Several trends in the expanding role of a company’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)—your typical Decider—have led to the current situation. CMOs’ responsibilities have increased so rapidly in recent years—adding in oversight of digital, customer service, innovation, social media, sales, distribution channels, product development and e-commerce—that their very survival depends on a heads-down approach, delegating more than they should to inexperienced Gatekeepers in order to move forward. In parallel, it has been predicted that more than one-half of the internal technology spending at Fortune 100 clients will be controlled by the CMO and not the CTO/CIO. Even the CMO Council has declared 2013 “The Year of the Marketer.” All this is good for CMOs, and good for the companies that employ them, but it’s bad for you because it makes them even less accessible.
It looks as though the Gatekeeper paradigm is here to stay, and so we’ll need to meet its challenges with presentation solutions as creative as the pitches themselves. We have to find a way to reach the Decider without being present, and we must equip the Gatekeeper to re-present our case more effectively.
The ideas you present are different from the vehicles you use to present them; you may have great ideas that are dying during transmission. I think if you’ll be honest with yourself, you might conclude that your current presentation method is convenient and typical, but also not very emotional or compelling. Your personal presence can inject those two things into a presentation, but you won’t be around when a mere PowerPoint deck or mood board is presented to the Decider.
So how can we make our presentations to the Gatekeeper so that very little can be lost in translation? The solutions to re-presentation are going to change as technology and the marketplace evolve, but if I were in your shoes at this stage, I would be experimenting with new tools to aid in the full transmission of your ideas—and ultimately your value—to the Deciders.
There are many possible solutions, from presentation-building SAAS platforms like Prezi, FuzeBox and SlideRocket to “graphic facilitation” firms that help make an idea come alive (start at The Center for Graphic Facilitation). But here I’ll focus on video, which is ideally suited to transmitting emotion and emphasis in a very compressed timeframe.
Mid- and large-sized management consulting firms have been using video for a couple of years now. Where in the past they would use a 120-page deck to present their findings at the end of a multi-million-dollar engagement, now they are presenting 10 pages to the client, but relying primarily on a 6-minute video with high production quality. They know that this video will make the rounds to thousands of people eventually, and in doing so will function nearly as well as if the presenters accompanied that showing.
It’s likely that your workflow is not set up for this, but maybe that should change. A $3,000 digital SLR is used to film entire TV series now and, equipped with inexpensive LED lighting, the results (in full HD) can be stunning. Yes, you would have to capture key moments during the work back at your agency and possibly in the street, and then you’d have to have a skilled offline editor piece the presentation together. But packages like iMovie are included on any Mac, as is GarageBand. The final element to capture is good audio. There are excellent linear PCM recorders for a few hundred dollars, and wireless transmission from the source is less than a thousand dollars (check out Shure or Sennheiser).
The biggest hurdle is not money but adjustments to your workflow. It takes a real expert to nail an analysis and the solution accurately, succinctly and with passion. But just imagine the results if you could capture the passion of a brainstorming session or an “on-the-street” interview with a customer, and then weave it together to clearly state the problem and the solution.
And remember that the client isn’t paying you for the video, but rather for the ideas that the video can communicate so well, over and over. Your pitch must still be grounded by research, infused with authenticity and offer solutions to real problems for the client. Presented in the right way, it can cut through the clutter and reach the Decider earlier and more effectively in the process. Outside forces are transforming the creative industry. Do something from the inside to control your future and your impact. ca