Does Your Ad Agency Use Storytelling In Its Sales Pitch?

Agencies Do Storytelling

Why-Storytelling-and-Why-NowAdvertising agencies love the idea of being storytellers. Storytelling skills have become one of the ways that agencies offer agency brand differentiation. To be clear, here’s a definition:

Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, sound and/or images, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values.

I see three ways that agencies do storytelling:

The Agency itself has a story.

Frankly, this is an amazingly underused opportunity. Why don’t agencies use their own personal or business stories more often on their websites, in their new business programs and pitches? Need an example (yes, an obvious one): Ogilvy’s use of David. The

ogilvy2The Ogilvy website has David’s bio and the following ‘story’ about David that he wrote to his partners 3 years after he started the agency Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather. He is writing about himself.

Will Any Agency Hire This Man?

He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of college.
He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer.
He knows nothing about marketing and had never written any copy.
He professes to be interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready to go to work for $5,000 a year.

I doubt if any American agency will hire him.

However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later he became the most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth biggest agency in the world.

The moral: it sometimes pays an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring.

My moral… This story reinforces the perception that Ogilvy is ‘imaginative and unorthodox.’ The agency delivers this compelling message neatly wrapped up in a founder story — not just saying it.

The agency sells its ‘storytelling’ prowess.

HubSpot published an interview “Have agencies Abused The Term Storytelling?” I did with Michael Donahue, ex-EVP of The American Association of Advertising Agencies about the art of brand storytelling . Is storytelling overused? My take? No, telling stories to help consumers build a better understanding of and a closer bond with brands works. However, how the agency describes this particular art must be distinctive. It’s the

Is storytelling overused? My take? No, telling stories to help consumers build a better understanding of and a closer bond with brands works. However, how the agency describes this particular art to sell itself must be distinctive. It’s the how you say you do storytelling that needs work or your agency’s pitch will sound like the agency down the street. Example… If you are a full-service agency, tell me a story about what full service means to your agency – and as a client benefit. Bring this term to life. Get past the words to weave in the benefit of why full-service.

The agency uses storytelling in pitches.

I tell a story about the Worst Pitch Ever in my book on pitching. People love this story about how the great Saatchi & Saatchi brothers and their team (including me) totally screwed up a pitch for Adidas that we should have won. I use this story to illustrate how even the great agencies get it all wrong. The Adidas failure story leads readers into my ‘how-to’s’ which are based on my past pitch wins and losses. I go further to discuss how an agency can weave stories into a pitch presentation to help grab the attention of the client and build in a bit of humanity. From the book…

Storytelling is always a good way to move from introductions to the main part of the presentation. Stories do all of those wonderful things that stories do (they frame the conversation, they are memorable, they are friendly), and they can act as a metaphor for your presentation theme. You have a theme that will create differentiation, right? I think that there is an opportunity to weave a story into your discussion of any research and insights you have. Why not tell the story of why and how you did the research itself. This could provide a personal look at how your agency thinks and manages process.

I am working with an agency on their pitch system. They are a 100-year-old agency that started as a direct mail company. They fear that telling clients that they are old does not sound right for today’s accelerated digital marketing universe. I helped them convert ‘old’ into having valuable ‘Agency DNA’. People dig DNA. The idea of having a history of attention to marketing that delivers results is what’s it is all about.

Nothing old about this data-driven agency attribute.

One Comment

  1. Mike Donahue
    | Permalink

    Peter, you killed it.
    Full disclosure : This is Mike Donahue about whom you have good things to say in this article.
    Even when you worked for me I knew you would go far..although Portland is a stretch

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