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Selling Your Ads Off
by Tom Monahan

You are a brilliant creative. There is little doubt about that. You’ve got the shiny little trophies to prove it. You’ve got war stories from the coast. You’ve got outtake tissues in your trash bin that Goodby would pay big money for.

But more than that, much more than that, you’ve got, what? Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars worth of goods and services that you’ve sold on behalf of your clients throughout the course of your career.

Think about it. You are not just an exemplary ad maker, you are an ingenious salesperson, too. Or is that sales associate, in these everybody’s-got-to-have-a-dignified-title times?

You know that guy down at the corner car dealership with the faux wood plaque on his wall proclaiming sales champion of the month? You got it all over that fella’. He pushes, maybe a coupla hundrit grand of tin each month, if he’s not spending too much time at the ponies.

You? You sold a couple three mil in life insurance policies last week alone. In your sleep. Gimmeabreak. (I’m lovein’ writin’ like dis. I coulda’ wrote a couplea’ Soprano’s episodes, made fordy, fifdy large last munt myself. But, I digress with the fishes.) You are a sales genius. Congratusellinglations!

So how come you can’t sell your best work?

Admit it. That great storyboard that was going to help pay for the new luxury SUV? Down in flames. That amazing print campaign that had you rehearsing your best-of-show speech? Compromised to death.

But you’re pretty damn good, you say in your defense. You have sold some pencil-worthy work in your time. But you could be a whole lot better, pally, if you could only sell your best work more of the time.

And you know what your problem is? Well, actually, you got a few problems. So let me spell them out, 1-2-3. Then we’ll take a crack at solving them.

Problem 1: You do brilliant work. Sometimes.
Actually, that’s two problems. One, you only do brilliant work some of the time. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. So, what’s the other side to Problem 1? It’s the “brilliant work” part of it that’s the problem.

You see, brilliant work is harder to sell than crappy work. Much harder.

So often I hear people say, “great work sells itself.” No. Sorry. Great work is different. Great work stands for something. It says something. It stands out. It sticks its neck out. And for many clients, all of those things are scary. For most all clients and agency brass, the last one, the sticking out of the neck bit, is really scary.

So if you’re going to do great work, you’ve got to be able to figure out how to sell great work.

Problem 2: You don’t sell your own product as well as you sell your client’s.
What do your ads do to sell the products they are hawking? They romance them. They speak to their unique attributes. They’re relevant. They know the audience inside and out.

Do you know as much about your clients as you know about their customers? I didn’t think so.

Which brings us to the grand-daddy of the problems, here.

Problem 3: You just don’t take the selling part of your job seriously enough.
Too often I hear wise-ass creatives dis their CD asking, “What the hell has he or she ever done to become a CD?”

I’ll tell you what they’ve done. They’ve made selling a priority. They can sell good stuff, even great stuff. They can probably sell circles around those crybaby juniors who get all the glory. Well, at least the CDs get paid better. A whole lot better, if you’re wondering.

So let’s get to the solutions.

I facilitated an international creative directors conference a few years ago where the biggest “ah ha!” of the meeting was this: “When it comes time to sell, it’s too late to sell.”

Think about it. If you’re putting a lot of time into “the presentation” of your brilliant ad or campaign (big assumption), it’s a little late to do the really important stuff. Mostly, that is, build a strong, trusting client/agency relationship.

What you say in the room is not usually what’s going to sell that campaign. Put it over the edge. Give them the benefit of the doubt (and if it’s a really fresh concept, there will be doubt).

What you say in the room is important, sure. And you can certainly unsell the stuff at that point. But it’s all the hours, all the other ads, all the trust you’ve built in advance of the big meeting that sets the stage for what happens in that room. Or all the trust you haven’t built that makes selling the great stuff so, so hard.

Are you walking into a room where they’re thinking, “Oh no, here come those crazy creatives again. Trying to push edgy design and toilet humor on us in the name of marketing communications”? Or are they thinking, “Here come the white knights who pulled our butts out of the fire last time they charged in here”?

You know they’re not thinking, “I hope the creative is pencil worthy.” Monahan
Tom Monahan was a founder of Leonard/Monahan in Providence, Rhode Island where he was an award winning copywriter and creative director. He wrote for Communication Arts from 1990 to 2000. He is the author of The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy: Open your mind to greater creative thinking, published by Adweek Books. He is currently president and head creative thinking coach at Before & After, Inc., where he consults to ad agencies of all sizes as well as some of the world's top corporations.