When your concept is taken Hostage

So you have a great idea and you’re all excited to present it, this could be the big one! The meeting goes well enough, they like it, you high five anyone who’s passing the meeting room.

A couple days pass and then come the list of amends.

They’ve shown some key stakeholders, they’ve shown their team, the guy in the canteen and a passing doctor and a medic. And they want to see some changes and they want them done now!

It’s like someone’s taken your idea hostage.

The client is hold up inside the bank and they want a helicopter now or the idea gets it.

Now comes the drawn out negotiations and just hoping your idea survives and no one gets hurt.

The one time chief hostage negotiator for the FBI, Chris Voss, writes in his book ‘Never split the difference’ about some of the methods he uses to get the outcome he wants without compromise.

He calls it Tactical Empathy.

This intrigued me, he makes it clear a lot of the skills are transferable to business, but advertising and creativity?

Well, why not.

Like all human interaction his premise is based on empathy, not sympathy or agreeing, but listening more than talking and making the hostage taker feel like they are in charge and making all the decisions.

Sound familiar?

I recently had an experience where I could have done with Chris when dealing with what I can, with absolute certainty, call my worst client experience ever.

I couldn’t see the other side of the story as it seemed just pure lunacy, but with hindsight I wish I had.

To cut a long story short, we’d pitched and won with a particular idea that all the stakeholders liked.

Bingo, an idea straight from pitch to production. Never happens. We’ll get right on it.

Then the main client climbed aboard our concept and took the whole process hostage. He wanted his photographer and his CGI guy to do it all and he assured us he knew what he was doing.

His guys were cheaper and good enough.

This was one of the situations that Chris Voss calls a ‘Black Swan’. Most hostage negotiations follow a similar pattern, but occasionally you get someone who wants to ‘die by cop’ and doesn’t follow any normal pattern.

We were suddenly camped outside the bank with a loudhailer and a sweaty Al Pacino threatening to kill everyone. (Extra points if you get the film reference)

We said we’d consider these guys for sure, we’re all about collaboration, so we’d talk to them.

When we called we discovered he’d already briefed them anyway.

One hostage down.

I usually pride myself on being able to talk a client round to my way of thinking a lot of the time, but on the day of the big ‘powwow’ when we were politely putting our case for using an agency for what they’re good at, I could have done with a little more of Chris Voss’s technique and less of my performance as a scandalised prima donna.

I have a lot of patience and it takes a lot to anger me, but wilful disrespect of our creative skills and process will kinda push my buttons, I must say.

But there must have been a way round it, I just couldn’t see it.

Could a hostage negotiator have faired better?

So here are some of his techniques, in a very brief and inadequate list which I’ve tried to translate in to a pharmaland scenario.

  1. Deference, don’t make it all about you. let the client feel they are the expert and play down your own expertise. People love to talk and they will give you nuggets of information that you may not know about but could help your negotiation. This will give you leverage.
  2. Establish rapport by mirroring what they say, not their physical actions. “I want you to make the data bigger”…”the data bigger?” This can be surprisingly effective at just making people feel you are on their side and understand their issues.
  3. Re-burden the client with their own problem. So if they ask that you do an impossible change, ask ‘how am I supposed to do that?’ Or if it’s an impossible deadline request, “how can we do that?” This keeps them feeling they are in charge but with only the illusion of control.
  4. Instead of saying a flat NO to a request, illicit a more positive response by labelling the problem.”it sounds like you don’t like this idea.” People are inclined to answer with a “no, no…I do like it” rather than outright trashing it. Or “it seems like you want this idea to be all about the data” “No, that’s not it” This style of question has the benefit of leaving you and your personal feelings out of it, it’s not about you, because ‘me and you’ can make it quite combative and we’re not looking for combat.
  5. Don’t go for a YES. Sales people and sales books often are about getting to yes but people often say yes to things without meaning yes (think of how you might get a salesman off the doorstep by saying yes, then cancelling right after) get them to say NO. “It seems like somethings holding you back.” “No, not all” People often will let their guard down if they feel understood.
  6. Get emotional permission to allow them to buy. What you don’t want to hear from your client is ‘you’re right’. Think about it, when you tell someone they’re right it’s usually because you want them to shut up or go away. Real buy-in comes from ‘that’s right’. Think of when you hear a politician you agree with, you point at the TV and say ‘that’s right’.
  7. People are wired to be loss averse, so losing is a safer bet than winning. $5 gained is meh. $5 loss is terrible. Think what the client stands to lose by not buying your idea or your services.

There’s a ton more stuff in his book, which even if you have a passing interest in psychology you should read. Maybe you can find ways of applying it to your creative meetings and get that idea past all the hurdles.

The hardest part of what we do is getting our work from concept to the finish line in recognisable form, with the idea intact, so if we can empathise more with our clients, not necessarily agreeing with them, together we can turn a hostage situation in to a peaceful exchange.

Of course, occasionally we may need to deliver a holdall full of cash to a secret location and a helicopter to Cuba, but hey, that’s advertising.

 

 

 

The Bieber guide to pitching.

The approach is this:

You simply do whatever you need to, present the kind of work you suspect they will like and then get the client round to an idea you like once they are through the door and you are fully appointed.

So why Justin Bieber?

Think of it like dating.

If you want to woo a girl (for the sake of this blog) and she likes Justin Bieber you say you love JB too – how amazing! and you buy two tickets for his next show because, you know, you are sooo all about the Biebs.

You go to the concert, put up with the music and the screaming girls, but woo her with the whole ‘we have so much in common’ pitch, and as she gazes in to your eyes longingly, you kiss her to the sound of ‘As long as you love me’ in the background and then, theoretically, you live happily ever after.

Simples.

Until the next time she suggests Justin is in town and she has got some tickets.

Aaahh crap.

Greeeeaaaat. Can’t wait.

You can’t now say you actually can’t stand him, she would consider you a complete fraud, so you go and keep going and buying the albums and listening to him on long car journeys and then one day it all gets unbearable and you get very drunk and admit, in a slurred yet frenzied mental breakdown, that you always HATED him and if you have to go to another concert of his or listen to one more bar of his you will literally cut off your own ears and stuff the remaining ear-hole with parts of disused flip flops!

In floods of tears she can’t believe she has been so stupid as to fall for this sham of a relationship and she storms out leaving you heartbroken.

That’s one way to pitch.

So it might have just been better in the first place if you’d just explained that actually Ed Sheeran is more your cup of tea and risked not winning her over.

Or maybe she actually had never heard Ed Sheeran and actually quite likes him now that you made her a playlist.

So, fellow pitch losers, when you receive that ‘you came a close second’ call or email, maybe it’s ok.

Maybe you just dodged a bullet.

Sooner or later you would have cut your own ears off and had no flip flops.

Real success, both creatively and financially, comes when both parties like Ed Sheeran or led Zep, or Beyonce or whoever.

If you think what you are presenting is right – whatever the outcome, then losing a pitch is actually winning if you look at it the right way.

And when you actually win that pitch, well, it’s all the more sweeter.

Plus, as the Biebster would say, there’s one less lonely girl.

 

 

 

 

Survey this.

Frankly, I have had enough of survey requests.

Not the door to door type, just the incessant ‘how was buying that door knob for you’ type of survey.

I don’t want to be part of the big data I want to be small data, in my own house, leave me alone thank you very much.

The problem with surveys is (and by the way- how is your experience of the last sentence? can you take the time to fill in a form?)

When I just want to book some theatre tickets I don’t want to tell you how brilliant I found the experience of giving you my credit card details. I just want the tickets.

If I didn’t find this a reasonably good experience I would:

A: Not use your poxy site again

B: Complain

Actually, I probably wouldn’t even complain. I mean how bad would your website have to be?

You will find out if your website is crap because people will stop using it.

How’s that for a real life big data survey?

I recently have had some dealings with SKY. Yes they sorted the issue out, no I don’t want to rate your employee.

I’ve done it twice and the texts won’t go away.

It’s actively making me hate the SKY brand.

But that data isn’t captured because I keep giving them 10 out of 10 because it’s easier that way and it gets them off my back.

I recently joined the National Trust. Now I have a text sitting on my phone because they would ‘love to get my feedback on my experience’.

The guy on the phone was nice enough and I gave him my debit card details.

There, does that help?

What if agencies surveyed their clients as regularly as other companies think it’s OK to do? How was your last conference call? was it A: Too long B: Too short C: Waste of time D: Incoherent.

You recently had a presentation from our agency. Did you find the slides A: Tedious B: Colourful C: Interesting D: Helpful E: Stupid.

How do you view our recent award triumph at the PONCY AWARDS in Zurich? A: Don’t care B: Somewhat don’t care C: Massively cool D: I got drunk and embarrassed myself and have no recall of anything.

Would this help improve our services?

The only real data that matters is if you still have the account and if the work worked.

I do wonder whether this new obsession to gather trivial data at all costs is really a true reflection of real life or that helpful.

Me? I am all surveyed out.

How was this blog for you?

 

 

The North Pond Hermit™

For thirty years the legend of The North Pond Hermit in central Maine continued to grow.

He remained unseen but his presence was felt everywhere. During the night things would go missing from local houses, never money, but food, clothing, books and oddly – BBQ gas canisters.

The only evidence left behind was occasional wood shavings, the remnants of a jimmied window.

Like BigFoot or The Loch Ness monster, this…thing….became larger than life, taking on mythical status.

A brand, if you will.

How could one person survive in the woods during those severe Maine winters when one night in the snow would be enough for most people, and a week would be unthinkable?

Eventually, almost thirty years after he left the civilized world Christopher Thomas Knight was caught pilfering food from The Pine Tree Summer Camp kitchens by a motion sensor that linked through to the Police chief’s home, a man who had been hunting The North Pond Hermit like he was Dr David Banner himself. ( If you don’t get the reference look it up)

Technology had finally caught up with him. The news broke and the story spread across America capturing the nation’s imagination.

Christopher, now 47, was barely able to talk, having mostly lost the ability due to his solitary existence. He had the same glasses on he’d worn when at the age of 20 he’d disappeared in to the forest. When the cops asked how long he’d been living like that he replied “what year was the Chernobyl disaster?”

hermit-arrest

This was a man without property, taxes, car, mail, or any of the baggage of our modern world who existed under tarpaulin sheets in the middle of nowhere.

His recently pilfered trousers, however, were in fine fettle, as were his sturdy boots.

The police held him and charged him with multiple burglaries (estimated at over 1000 at an average of 40 a year)

Not so much a legend as a college drop out in dodgy jeans.

Reading this story it occurred to me that to create a brand, a good percentage of the job is done by elements out of the brand creator’s hands. It can behave in a certain way, it can not say very much at all in fact, and sometimes that might actually help and we, the fanciful public, fill in the gaps.

People love to use their imaginations, creative or not, and that is a vital ingredient in the bubbling cauldron of brand perception.

We don’t so much “Capture the imagination” as release it.

It’s why papers give serial killers a good nickname to maximize the horror. The Yorkshire Ripper beats dreary old Peter Sutcliffe any day. The Moors murderers, The Monster of Florence, The Lipstick Killer, Son of Sam…the list goes on.

In our Pharma world, despite being told endlessly to the contrary, a little mystery is still essential in constructing a brand. We’re told HCPs just want the data, patients just want the facts and yet we know a dash of the coquettish can make all the difference.

If we reduce concepts and ideas to just messages, without any creative magic, what we are effectively selling is Christopher Thomas Knight. Call me shallow if you like, but I am less interested in Christopher than his alter ego The North Pond Hermit.

One is a brand, the other is just a bit of a weirdo.

Like a magician who transports an audience member from one end of the theatre to the other with a wave of his magic wand and is then exposed for using identical twins, the unremarkable ordinariness of the truth will suck the oxygen right out of a brand.

Coke isn’t happiness it’s sugary brown water.

But what does Vorsprung durch Technik mean? People will be confused, can we run it in different languages for different countries?

It means Truth in Engineering.

Oh, ok. Meh.

It’s not a Happy Meal, it’s a small burger and a plastic toy.

And yet when it works the other way, it can be mesmerizing. For years the Para Olympics were the poor relation to the main event, synonymous with half filled stadiums and obscure TV channels. What marketing existed was along the lines of  ‘for people who can’t walk or see they’re a lot like real athletes’

But when Channel 4 got hold of it in 2012 they told us we were actually watching Superhumans. With one bound they overtook ‘normal’ athletes and stars were born.

Ok, now I might tune in.

Para Olympics 2012

4 Creative’s Para Olympics campaign 2012

As creatives our job is to add the magic even when it seems there’s none to be found. It’s not about obscuring the truth, it’s about revealing enough truth to tantalize.

Tell too much and the spell can be broken.

The one clever thing The Hermit has done is remain silent about his life in the woods. How he survived is still mostly a mystery and so an element of the legend remains, even as he languishes in jail for all the burglaries carried out since 1986. (It doesn’t matter that it’s mostly because he can’t talk very well anymore.)

Like a stripper with carefully positioned feathers, more can definitely be less.