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The ad agency presentation: Part 1 – the preparation

‘Why don’t you put together your thoughts on the annual plans for Brand X?‘. As soon as the boss utters these words, chances are the ad agency Account Manger is likely to fire up PowerPoint and start typing over ‘Click to add title’. This is a common trait in ad agency presentations, especially those from Account Management: plunge straight into writing a presentation. Fact is ,there are 3 parts to any presentation:

– preparation: the time spent gathering data, insights, organising thoughts, forming hypotheses, validating them, arriving at a plan, taking a firm stance, being sure of the key messages which need to be conveyed. Sure there is preparation required for delivering the presentation too (in terms of rehearsals, motivation etc.) but I am referring to the time spent even before writing a single slide

– creation: the time spent creating the content, phrasing the slides, formatting or embellishing the content

– delivery: the actual presentation which makes an impact, conveys a point forcefully, closes a deal, sells an idea, inspires an audience and so on.

Unfortunately, hardly any effort goes into preparation and delivery.

Needless to say, everyone wants to make a good presentation. Search for ‘PowerPoint presentation’ on Google search and you will find many tips to improve presentations among the 1.8mn results. There are many useful tips on all aspects of a presentation, some suited specifically for a purpose. For example, Guy Kawasaki talks about the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint, which may best suite someone making a pitch to a venture capitalist.Some find it fashionable to blame the most commonly used tool – PowerPoint, for bad presentations. That’s not the truth – one must know how to get the most out of a presentation tool – be it PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi or any of the other online presentation creation applications.

Even in this 140-character, short-attention-span driven world, one cannot wish away the need to put forth thoughts or share ideas formally and hence presentations are necessary. In many situations – investor meets, syndicated studies, progress reports, market reports etc., there is no substitute for formal presentations.

When it comes to ad agency presentations, the big one…the big event, is of course the client presentation. The Big Fat Client Presentation has many avatars: pitch presentation for an account, an annual presentation on brand plans for an existing client, campaign or creative idea presentation, media proposals & reviews, market research presentation, campaign analysis & report (for media plans, social media) and so on. Add to this some ad agency internal presentations – selling an idea to a cross-functional team, training, sharing an idea or observation, summarising performance of a brand or campaign, summary of financial performance etc., and you have a power (point) packed schedule of presentations.

If one were to pause before any presentation and take time to prepare I am convinced that it will have a positive impact on the content and delivery. Unfortunately in the hurry-burry of things and day-to-day operations who has the time to prepare?

Who is your audience? How much do they know about the subject?: very often you will find agency folks saying what the client already knows. A lot of time would be spent on telling the client his brand’s market share, repeating the brief and so on. The simple mantra – don’t tell the audience what they already know. Sure if you are saying something obvious in order to make some other point which could be relevance to the topic or something the audience has not thought of, then it is fine.

What is the outcome sought? In clear simple, language what do you want get done after the presentation? Get the client to buy the campaign idea? Approve the costs? It could also be something softer like sending a message to the audience. A pro-active effort from the account management team on say, packaging trends abroad in a category is likely to be appreciated by the client. It sends across a message that the team cares about the brand, is forward thinking, pro-active etc.

Blue sky thinking, mind map tools: before actually putting down the content can you get inputs from experts? Or someone refreshingly new? If need be consider using mind map tools to open up your thinking on a subject, to give you fresh angles to think on.

What are the key points you want to convey? In any presentation there must be 2-3 key points about the subject or proposal. Write them down in simple language. Ensure those points are new to the audience and more importantly, relevant. Are they all connected to one big idea? If so, are they all linked to one another?

What is the physical work required to substantiate those points? Articles to be read? Ads, movies or any inspirational content to be watched? Research to be initiated? Market visit?

Is there a theme that can hold all the points you want to make? Sometimes it may help to think of a theme to help organise your presentation. If there is none, it is fine – don’t try and force fit a theme.

The one presentation where a lot of effort goes into preparation, with a lot of leg work prior to actually writing the content, brainstorming with teams, tossing up several ideas before honing in on a few etc., is the big Annual Plans presentation (wherever such a practice exists!) and the Media Strategy Plan presentation. Most other presentations, in my experience is a blur of last minute activity. The chances of success depends purely on the calibre of the person writing & delivering the presentation and to an extent the one guiding him or her. New business presentations may well start one week before the actual presentation date but actually take shape only the night before the big day. Even if a month was available for a pitch presentation, the momentum always gathers in the last week – ideas get firmed up, creatives get developed (which has a bearing on the actual deck) and slides get written.

Even in agencies where dedicated Planning teams are involved in preparation (the research, ideas brainstorming etc.) for a new business pitch, the final presentation actually takes shape in the last minute. So you can imagine the state of mind of Account Management folks whose time is largely spent on operations, when it comes to presentations. They simply do not have the luxury of preparation. Which is a pity, really. Because a lot of them are bright, passionate minds who care about their brand, have ideas and want to contribute…make an impact. Especially for them, preparation is key.

Part 2 of this topic on content creation sometime soon. Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

photo credit: michael+yan via photopin cc

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