Mike Fromowitz
Feb 21, 2013

Does your agency presentation suck?

Bad presentations are painful—for the presenter dying a slow death in front of his audience and for the bored people who have to sit through it.

Does your agency presentation suck?

Most ad agency new business presentations stink. Period.

Most are bloated ramblings that ignore the client’s key concerns, fail to tell a simple story, or neglect to position the agency in a unique way. Many new business opportunities are wasted on bad presentations given by agencies because they couldn’t get their point across. Bad presentations are painful—for the presenter dying a slow death in front of his audience and for the bored people who have to sit through it.

Ad agencies spend considerable time creating unique brand positionings for their clients, but they fail at doing it for themselves. Thus most ad agency new business presentations are often short on real insights. They are loaded with predictable services and the same agency speak they all use. There’s often nothing note worthy or memorable that separates one agency from another.

Sell yourself with a strong and memorable USP

The ad agency’s most difficult task is in finding something different enough to say about themselves. Without defining a unique difference, how can they expect to achieve a positive chemistry with their audience?

So, Rule #1: You must have something significant to say, or something that you are passionate about. Without it, your efforts will fall flat. Clients are often bored out of their minds and would just like the agency to pack it up and go home. Imagine how many new business opportunities were squandered because of these types of presentations.

Presentations that are half as long are twice as good

There was a time when audiences loved long speeches. Today’s attention spans are shorter. The average YouTube video is just over 4 minutes. Stand a politician up in front of a room and watch everyone fall asleep. Does anyone really listen to those windy political anymore? And how many people in the audience actually pay attention, or are checking their smartphones for email, or chattering amongst themselves?

With that in mind, ad agencies should remember Rule #2: Cut the presentation in half. Almost all of them can be done in 15-20 minutes. And that will leave time for client questions. That’s just right for today’s time-challenged listeners and hectic work schedules.

Grab the audience by the balls

To quickly grab your audience by the balls, take a lesson from Steven Spielberg. His movie Jaws opens with a girl getting eaten by a shark. Simple. Just a girl swimming in the surf and becoming dinner. The rest of the film is about resolving the problem of the man-eating shark.

Your presentations should start the same way. Don’t open with a bunch of background on how massive you are, how many offices you have around the region, the size of your billings, or the amount of people you can fly in on a project. Most likely the client has learned all this by visiting your website. No one cares! And if they do, they can ask during the Q&A.

Rule #3: Surprise. Cut right to the “shark,” the key challenge that faces your client and their business. For example: “Our job is to help you increase your revenues by $12 million in 12 months. I’m going to talk about how we’re going to do it.” That’ll grab their attention without wasting time.

Helpful nuggets for small to midsize agencies

Steve Jobs was a terrific presenter. He had something to teach small to midsize ad agencies about pitching for new business. In his words: “Every new business pitch should do three things: inform, educate and entertain.”

He also said: “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”  I once worked with a client where the marketing VP banned slides, forcing all speakers to get creative in the way that they presented or illustrated their messages.

Here are some helpful nuggets that will add punch to your next agency pitch. They include some of Steve Jobs techniques that turned him into one of the world’s best presenters.

1. Plan your presentation with pen and paper. Begin by storyboarding your presentation. Steve Jobs spent his preparation time brainstorming, sketching and white-boarding before creating his presentation. All the elements of the story that he wanted to tell were thought through, elements were planned and collected before any slides were created.

2. Create a single sentence description for every service/idea. Stick to one idea per page, letting that one concept really stick into the minds of the audience. Think of it having to fit in a 140-character Twitter post. For the introduction of the MacBook Air in January 2008, Jobs explained it simply: “The world’s thinnest notebook”.

3. Focus on benefits. This is important for ad agencies to remember. Your audience only cares about how your service will benefit them so lead with benefits rather than agency credentials and capabilities.

4. Stick to the rule of three for presentations. Almost every Steve Jobs presentation was divided into three parts. You might have twenty points to make, but your audience is only capable of retaining three or four points. Give them too many points and they’ll forget everything you’ve said.

5. Sell dreams, not your services. Steve Jobs didn’t sell computers. He was passionate about helping to create a better world. That was the promise that he sold. For example, when Jobs introduced the iPod in 2001, he said, “In our own small way we’re going to make the world a better place.” Where most people saw the iPod as a music player, Jobs saw it as a tool to enrich people’s lives.

6. Don’t put too many ideas on one slide. Some presenters put everything on a slide thinking that it will help them remember what they need to say. Forget that approach and use slide notes instead. Slides that are dense with information are document-like and are best for presentations that are going to be distributed, not actually presented.

7. Create visual slides. There were no bullet points in a Steve Jobs’ presentation. Instead he relied on photographs and images. When he unveiled the Macbook Air, Apple’s ultra-thin notebook computer, he showed a slide of the computer fitting inside a manila inter-office envelope. Keep your agency presentation’s that simple.

8. Make slides easy and quick to comprehend. If you have a slide that takes longer than 10 seconds to comprehend, it's too complex. Slides should enhance what you're saying, rather than add more information. They should only take 5 seconds to process. To break down complex ideas, don't be afraid to use more slides; they're free. It's better to flow through your slides rather than to stay stagnant on one for too long.

9. Make numbers meaningful. Jobs always put large numbers into a context that was relevant to his audience. The bigger the number, the more important it is to find analogies or comparisons that make the data relevant to your audience.

10. Use plain English (or whatever language you use). Jobs’s language was remarkably simple. He rarely, if ever, used the jargon that clouds most presentations—terms like ‘best of breed’ , 'one-of-a-kind', 'unique' or 'out-of-the-box thinking'. His language was simple, clear and direct. And don’t use agency speak either when presenting, like 'integration', 'proprietary process', or 'innovative', etc.

11. Practice, practice, practice. Steve Jobs spent hours and hours rehearsing. Every slide was written like a piece of poetry, every presentation was staged like a theatrical experience. His presentations look effortless. Agencies often are forced to rely on spontaneity to provide creative energy for a pitch because they have spent all of their time putting together the presentation and little or no time for rehearsal. Most unrehearsed pitches end up falling flat.

Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki, well-known author, venture capital managing director, and a blogger, promotes a technique that can help small to midsize agencies. His 10-20-30 Rule is practiced by the better presenters:

  • No more than 10 slides
  • No more than 20 minutes
  • No font smaller than 30 points

Kawasaki’s premise: “a normal human being cannot comprehend more than ten concepts in a meeting. If you must use more than ten slides to explain your business, you probably don’t have a business.”

Your audience doesn’t need all of the details so don’t give them the minutia. Decide in advance what are the two or three main thoughts you want your audience to takeaway from your presentation.

Kawasaki says there are always going to be delays and interruptions to your speaking time. “In a perfect world, you give your pitch in twenty minutes, and you have forty minutes left for discussion.”

If you were to visit Washington, DC and tour the Lincoln Memorial, you will find etched in its South wall, President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a mere 269 words in length.

Wisdom is found in simplicity.

Brevity can also be a main point of differentiation. Just be more concise than your competitors and your presentation will stand out. This is even truer in our Twitter driven world so keep brevity in mind.

Mike Fromowitz


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